Why Grieving Is The Hardest Work I’ll Ever Do

I’m unemployed, but don’t let that fool you: I’ve been doing the hardest work I’ll ever do.

On January 6th, my father died. I don’t want to talk about how it happened. But I do want to talk about the after, because it is not what I thought it would be. I consider myself an advocate for mental health and therapy in general. I thought the death would be sad, and awful, but I had seen it coming, and at 76, my father was older. I took a leave of absence from nursing school to come home and spend time with him. I tried to live without regrets. I read a lot about anticipatory grief. I signed up for online therapy. I had a great support system. I thought I could handle it.

Boy, I was so wrong. I’ve never been so wrong in my life! No amount of therapy beforehand prepared me for the incredible pain and loss I feel in my bones when I think about the fact that my dad is never going to speak to me again. My chest aches when it hits me that he won’t be present for my graduation and all the future life milestones that have yet to come.

I used to be someone who jumped out of bed. The snooze button was not a function I utilized. Nowadays, I linger under the covers, clinging to the belief that if I don’t get out of bed, my life will be as it was before. I am not the same person as before. I feel ten years older, and a little more lonely, because he was the person who “got me” without explanation. And I’m loving harder than ever before, because life is precious, damn it! My priorities are clearly defined. I’m spending a lot of time with the people I love (hi, Mom, one of the few people who will always read my blog!) and trying to find some good in every week. I will be forever grateful to the people who have offered me love and support during one of the worst times in my life.

I still force myself to go out; life doesn’t stop. I turned 24 the day after we buried my father. (Then I caught the flu, so the immediate aftermath of his death was also accompanied by fever-induced hallucinations of my dad…fun!) My mom and I went on a trip, one we normally do as a family. My mom’s birthday still came, a few months later. I did my taxes. I got a haircut. Although mundane, I lived. I kept going, even when I really, really did not want to, when the easiest thing would be to bury myself under my comforter and shut out the world.

I am a lady of action. I confront my problems head-on. I have thrown everything at my grief in an attempt to handle it, to fix it, to make it go away. As I’ve blogged about before, I like being in control, and death is obviously one of those things that you have absolutely no control over. But grief, I thought – surely I can control it? Surely I can have it not consume my life? So began the journey to control my grief.

I wrote in my journal. I ran. I did yoga. I signed myself up for grief counseling. I tried EMDR. I went to a support group for young adults who have lost a parent. I went to a church grief group. I let myself cry. I sat in the room where he died, and looked at photos, and just bawled. But you know what? I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t suppress it. Grief, like love, just is. I’m learning to be okay with just letting it be there.

I do control its presence online. I don’t show how badly I hurt publicly. I debated about whether or not I should even write this post. Social media shows none of this pain. By all accounts, I have “moved on” online. I smile in pictures. I go to parties. I laugh at cat videos. I am functioning. But just because I’m functioning, doesn’t mean I don’t hurt every damn day. At almost four months, the pain is no longer so raw, but it still stings. And I think it’s important to talk about that, not to hide behind only the good things in my life. The ramifications of glorification of life on social media are real, and can be tragic for those struggling with their own lives. Social media only shows part of the story.

I’m learning to live with grief. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. Talking to people, slowly doing the day-to-day life things that need to be done, running errands (or “erranding,” as my dad called it): they’re all incredibly taxing. These tasks sap away at the “extrovert battery” that powers me. In the back of my mind, the grief is there, just lurking in the background, underneath the surface of emotions. I shove it back down, because otherwise, how would I function? But when it comes out, with no warning on occasion, I’m suddenly crying at a restaurant. Or sitting in the hallway of my house, next to his study, cursing up a storm. I feel every emotion so strongly, and the wave of emotions take over just long enough to wreak havoc. And then I lean back, exhausted, trying to breathe deeply and catch a little bit of normalcy before it comes again.

I’ve read over and over that grief comes in waves, and I find that to be true. Most days, now, I feel the waves of grief lapping at my body, soft, but always-present. And every so often, especially at night, a giant wave swells and knocks me down. Most days I just feel like I’m treading water. But I don’t feel like I’m drowning, anymore.

 

NOTE: If you or someone you know is thinking of hurting themselves, please call National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They also have an online crisis chat.