Thursday, March 26, 2015

Grief is a Four-Letter Word

Grief is a four-letter word. Yes, I can count, but as a grieving mother, it’s a four-letter word in my book.

Just the sound of it is heavy, sad and depressing. Most people avoid it at all cost, just like they avoid me. While I’ve gotten used to the pitiful glances, if you give me five minutes I’ll make one thing abundantly clear: Grief isn’t my entire life. Not by a long shot.

There is so much more to me than being a grieving mother. Did you know I can write? I can bake too. I can sing silly songs to my grandchildren, laugh with my family, and enjoy a good margarita with the sisterhood.

Yes, my life is filled with joy. Most people don’t expect that. Some even say I don’t look like a grieving mother because I smile and enjoy life. Which leads to the inevitable question: How did I manage my loss so well, how did I make sense from such brokenness?

Truth be told, once a grieving mother, always a grieving mother. And forever a permanent sister of The Wailing Tent. Grieving is a horrible process that imprisons us. It’s like someone stole the Technicolor from the movie of our life. But I believe that if I can find my way through the darkness of grief, anyone can.

So I’m happy to answer the inquiries, readily share how I broke free from my sorrow to create a life rich with blessings that include silly songs, moments of laughter, and an occasional salt-rimmed glass.

First, I give a good chunk of the credit to those who surrounded me in my darkest hours. But it’s also true that in the first long stretch, I unapologetically honored my need to tend to my brokenness in private. Like a wounded animal in the wild, I allowed very few in, mainly for their own protection.

Second, pain hurts, and it hurts deeply. And its human nature to flee from that which hurts us. Yet almost instinctively I understood that my wound was simply too profound to run from. So I paid my dues and endured my sentence in the dark, lonely prison of deep sorrow. At the same time, I hung on to the hope that there was no expiration date on the joy that waited for me when I was ready to seek it.

I also recognized that the effort to move through the grief was entirely my responsibility, and mine alone. Every morning I was faced with the choice of whether to get out of bed. It took all my effort and I certainly didn’t feel like it, but I forced myself. And much like strengthening a muscle, my ability to face the day grew stronger until it eventually took no effort at all.

In the meantime, I found a number of gratifying outlets to keep me busy. I love creating projects and endeavors that touch the lives of others, and it fills my heart with gratitude to do so. But in the early days of my solitude, I could barely function so I started with mindless, repetitive projects like beading and knitting. Grief is terribly distracting, so I kept to simple projects for my own safety.

Also, I embraced humor and amusement, because one laugh can scatter a hundred griefs. From the golden oldies like Erma Bombeck and Carol Burnett to modern day comedians such as Carol Scibelli and Tina Fey, they all possess the gift of humor, the ability to make us laugh. And laughter is like an old fashion remedy: it’s good for all that ails us. Including a sorrowful heart.

I also found comfort by reaching out to others who were struggling. It didn’t matter what their loss was, for grief comes in many forms. Supporting others is a powerful way to lift our own hearts, and offers us many benefits. This step singlehandedly is so life changing, that I continue to practice it to this day.

Lastly, I work hard to create hope. It is said that without grief, there would be no need to have hope. And while it too is a four-letter word, it is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

In fact, hope is so much more than just a simple word in the dictionary. It is the life force of our heart and soul, the food source for our dreams. When it rains, we long for the sun. When we’re hungry, we crave a good meal. When we live far from loved ones, we yearn to see them. Hope is the foundation of all our desires.

So without grief, there would be no need for hope. They go hand in hand. Which is why I created an entire event around it, the National Grief and Hope Convention. Maybe creating a convention is a bit extreme but quite simply, so is grief. And grievers need hope.

But this isn’t your average bereavement event. It is filled with nationally known personalities. Some have earned awards, some have written bestsellers, some are famous. But they all have two things in common: loss and healing. And they know that the power of sharing their inspirational journeys offers the gift of comfort and hope to those who are hurting. As the late Christopher Reeve once said, once you choose hope, anything is possible. And no one needs it more than grievers.

So you see, I am and always will be a grieving mother. My sorrow is a lifelong sentence and, from time to time, one can still find me among my sisters in The Wailing Tent. But I worked hard to process my loss, to break free from my prison cell, so I could spend more time seeking joy.

The kind that comes from singing silly songs to my grandchildren, laughing with family, and enjoying a good margarita with the sisterhood. And if I can do it, I believe anyone can. Cheers.

This article was originally published on TheBlaze on March 23, 2015.

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