When I used to hear the word 'grief,' my immediate thoughts were of someone having lost a person close to them. It meant someone had died, and it was not a word I wanted to know personally. There was also the 'Oh, good grief, Charlie Brown!' thing...but never before would I put 'good' and 'grief' together in a serious way. And I always assumed that grieving was something that happened to someone after something very bad had happened. I didn't see it as a process that one partakes in, that one must partake in at times in their life in order to move forward. I also used to assume that grief was linear, but no longer.
I was ignorant about grief years ago. My life wasn't easy, but it wasn't hard. And then in February 2001 I started going to the doctor for unexplained symptoms, and this went on until he diagnosed me with an auto-immune disorder more than a year later. Four days before my wedding. Casey and I thought, 'Well, if we can get through all of that hospital craziness (one week) and this diagnosis...we can get through anything!' I thought this was my grief. My valley.
Miles was born in April 2006. I was finally rid of the hospital on July 19. Celebration. Recovery. I thought I was moving on. It wasn't until September, when Miles was five months old, that I began to realize all that I had missed in his life. I remember breaking down in the shower one evening, sobbing uncontrollably because I hadn't been able to celebrate my first Mother's Day, hadn't carried him home for the first time, hadn't been able to breastfeed like I'd wanted, hadn't even taken one picture of him until he was four months old. I had dreamed of taking photos of him as a tiny, newborn baby. I had missed that.
Still ignorant about how my grief was working and how I had to be a part of it instead of just waiting for it to 'happen,' I thought that with full physical recovery would come full emotional healing. But the joy I felt after my final surgery in July 2007 was short-lived. Grief was upon me again, and I was just starting to get it. No one had warned me that the emotional pain can long outlive the physical pain. I thought that kind of pain only came with 'real' loss. I was still just beginning to grasp how much I'd lost, and I didn't even know the half of it until we started trying to have another baby in March 2008.
Fast forward to the present day. Grief is not linear. There can be ten steps forward and one hundred steps back. There can be two steps up and four steps down. There can be a valley after a valley -- it's not always valley-mountain-valley-mountain. Your pain is your pain, and it can be a lonely place if you let it -- sometimes even if you don't.
I have handled my grief in both good and bad ways. I don't know that anyone handles it perfectly. It frustrates me greatly sometimes that I can't press a pause button on life so I can have time to grieve and then be caught up with everyone else. I am almost always 'stuck' behind and I don't know that I will ever be able to catch up, but I am learning to accept that.
One thing I've learned, sometimes grudgingly, is that I will never be the exact same person I used to be. Life looks different to me now, but I believe that there are better parts of me that might not have been if I hadn't gone through what I did. And my joys...they are sweeter and dearer because of my sorrows. My pain is deep, but I hold the tiniest moments close to my heart. I don't think I would have done that had things been easier.
I write about all of this because of something that sounds extremely simple, but for me has been a thing of dread. And instead of continuing to avoid it, I decided to walk through my pain because I knew that there would be a bit of healing on the other side. Grief is not a friend of mine, but lately I'm seeing that I have to sit with it in order to heal. There is no other way. I could try to avoid it my entire life, but what kind of life would that be? I am tired of pain, and I know I will grieve certain things until I die, but the deep sadness is something I must be with so that I can move on.
Now, the simple thing I mentioned? I have recently decided to go through every bit of Miles' clothing since he was born in order to sell what I can at consignment next month. That's five years of my little boy's clothes. There were many pieces I set aside, unable to part with them either right now or ever. Ask me about that again next year. But that still left a lot of clothes that have to be washed, sorted, priced and tagged. Today I began washing the clothes and hanging them up until I can price them. But before washing them, I would inspect each piece of clothing to see if they had any kind of stain that needed treating.
I knew it would be tough. It had been emotional just going through them the first time. But today, holding up each onesie or tiny shirt or pair of pants, I felt my anxiety building. And building. And by the time I had started the first load of laundry, my heart was racing and I was finding it hard to breathe. There I stood in the laundry room, crying and asking God to be with me. When I recounted all of this to Casey later on, I cried even more, and as I sit here typing I am still not finished with washing those many tiny clothes.
But guess what? As painful as it has been, and as many memories as it has brought up (both good and bad), I have decided to let grief in my door today...and though I am not at the end of it, I have at least moved in a positive direction. Let's face it: when we're in the middle of it, grief is not where we want to be, right? But if we figure out that there is something good on the other side and we can walk through it, life doesn't seem as scary anymore. At least not to me.
That is good grief.