As the anniversary of my brother’s death approaches I feel a familiar sensation cropping up. An ache. Dull and sharp at the same time. “It’s back”, I hear myself think. That unwelcome visitor: Grief.
Part of me doesn’t want to write about this. Part of me just wants to make it go away or pretend it’s not there. I stay with it anyway. These past few months have taught me both that I can’t outrun what arises and that I am strong enough to hold the space for anything. I can hold this too.
Yet grief is the most deeply uncomfortable sensation I have ever experienced. Like a heavy weight pressing down on me. My heart is burning. I feel like I’m breathing in fog instead of oxygen. It’s stifling. Heavy. Exhausting. I feel that familiar, yet unnamable sadness ripping into me. That feeling as though something inside of me is tearing away at me.
Then I wonder if maybe it’s me tearing away at it.
Wanting to get away from it.
Wanting not to feel it.
Wanting to rip it from my body like clothes that are way too tight.
Realizing this, I asked myself to sit with it instead. And as I allow my thoughts to dwell on my brother, the squirming sensation passes. As I pause to remember him, I welcome grief and allow it in.
It aches Matt. I know you are here with me, but I still miss you. I miss your physical presence even though I know you weren’t really there the last time you were here. We’d lost so much of you even before you left us. It hurts to think I have to travel back far to remember the real you. But even though parts of you were already gone, I still miss you. The presence of you. The very idea of you. I miss your smile, your humor, your hugs. Especially your hugs.
I’m not sure how to describe it, how to name this unnamable feeling, but I know that that’s okay. I don’t need to name it to invite it to stay.
I notice that it’s not nearly as painful as I thought it would be, now that I’m sitting here with the feeling of you. The feeling you left behind. Resisting it was far worse than this. I’m just sitting here watching the shape of the hole in my heart. It’s outline reminds me of you.
Beautiful, in a heartbreaking sort of way.
I’m staring at a picture of you and I feel a heaviness pressing down on my chest. But it’s not painful now that I stopped squirming away from it. It’s more like a heavy blanket pulled over me in the winter. (Like that blanket you bought me once, remember?) It’s like you have your hand wrapped around my heart to hold me in this moment. I see you looking back at me in the picture and I feel a wave of emotion. Then I notice that I’m smiling. Not a big smile. Not a happy smile. Perhaps not even an outwardly noticeable smile. But a smile nonetheless.
My soul is content that I am letting the feeling be. My body is relieved that I stopped running. My mind is at ease, just remembering. All parts of me present and accounted for.
The tearing sensation came from the part of me that was trying to run from the feeling that is as inescapable as breathing. The tiredness was a message from my body urging me to rest. The heaviness was here to weigh me down enough to get me to stay in the moment. To pay attention to what is here. As it is all here for me.
It feels good to allow it in. To let it be. I strangely enjoy the quiet simplicity of the moment. I feel at ease now that I’m coming to understand that there is no need to run. The hurt isn’t trying to hurt me. I was hurting it as I refused to let it be.
When I feared it would swallow me whole I simply underestimated my own magnitude. I am bigger than the grief. I exist around the pain. I am strong enough to hold it.
As I continue to watch the hole and feel the edges, I can feel the heaviness seeping into it. Filling it like hot chocolate on a cold and stormy day. Comforting me. It’s warmth is what radiates the burning heat around the edges of that hole. That hole shaped like my brother.
I’m pouring my love for you into that hole where it mixes with the love I know you feel for me, with the memories of everything we shared.
That unnamable uncomfortable feeling of grief? It’s the ache of love.
That is an ache I can welcome with open arms.
A piece of me is still missing but the rest of me can rest in peace.
As I wrap myself around the hole
I feel whole again.
I see now that it was never the hole that kept me from wholeness. The hole is a part of me and as I ran from the hurt I ran from myself as well. By failing to be present with the loss I lost the presence of myself.
In the end it was never the loss that left me feeling incomplete. It was in leaving myself that I felt empty.
In staying present with the pain I am meeting myself in the moment. Recognizing, or “re-cognizing” means: to know again. I recognize myself again. Know myself again. I am not the same as I was before but the whole me is still here. Holes and all.
If you ever find yourself in the grip of grief it may help to remind yourself that your pain is a testament to the depth of love you feel for the one(s) you lost. That love and that loss has a right to be honored. You lost someone you love, of course you feel the pain of that, no matter how long it’s been. To push it aside is a disservice to yourself. To run, however understandable, only serves to increase the pain.
The best way to honor your loved one
is to love the one they left behind.
So be gentle with yourself.
There may be times where you’ll need to push grief aside for a moment as you are dealing with everyday life. Pain sometimes shows up at the worst possible time. But let that be a reminder to make more space for it later. Perhaps you felt a twinge of discomfort reading this, that tug lets you know there are things inside you too that crave attention. It won’t stop knocking unless you open the door.
It is safe to allow it in. You are bigger than the pain. You are stronger than the hurt. Trust me on that.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Did this post stir up anything for you? Do you ever struggle to sit with grief, loss or pain? If you feel comfortable sharing, please consider leaving a comment. Your comment may help others who are hurting.
Speaking of sharing. If you know someone who might be comforted by these words or think it might help them understand, feel free to share using the buttons below.