Grief and Time – It Doesn’t Get Easier, But That’s the Point

What we want to do is put grief in a box. “Package it up, tape the bitch, and put it somewhere where we can see it.” That’s what we say. With this, we get control over our grief. We can watch it and make sure it doesn’t fly out of the box, ripping at the edges, scrambling over to catch us in meetings and during someone else’s happy moments. If we can contain it, we can control it, and we’ve falsely believed – for quite some time now – that we’ll dis-empower it this way over time; that one day, that grief will cease to exist because we’ve made it smaller by cramming it into something with crippling limits.

I’ve discovered, in the wake of my own grief with loss and depression, that grief in a box is like a tumor. Just because we don’t allow it to grow outward and free, doesn’t mean it will disappear through the existence of time and us not paying it any attention. That’s not how it works, but who am I to tell you how it should? Here’s my experience, and you decide for yourself:

When my grandfather died, I isolated. I knew other coping mechanisms existed, but I didn’t care for them. I didn’t want to reach out to my family and grieve with them because we all isolated from each other. We didn’t create spaces in which to come together; we looked for spaces in which to hide from each other so that we could “process in peace.” And I put that sentence into quotes because, in my family, there is no peace in grief. None found none sought. What we do – successfully – is we push aside the human choice to sink into our feelings for the other choice to rack our brain for a way out: a way out of grief, out of sadness, out of crying in front of one another. We look for a loophole, mentally. And when we find one – whether that is keeping busy, averting eye contact, or making ourselves think about literally anything else – we latch onto it and use that runaround as an escape. “We’ll never think about loss again, and we won’t let grief pull us under.” That’s what we think, but rarely ever say. To my mom, that was a sign of strength. Her Herculean feat was to establish her ground as a no-crying badass who never looked at herself in grief as pieces she had to put back together. She was going to live long in the belief that nothing could break her. To my dad, that was an end result he chased but never attained. Contrary to my mom, he was and still is an emotional opportunity, to actually sit with his feelings and ACTUALLY process them in peace. But that doesn’t work when you’ve been fed the “life’s shit toughens you” mantra for decades. After a while, you start to think that being a no-crying badass in the face of grief is supposed to be a proud staple of who you are. And then there was Me in the middle, the neon-colored sheep of the family. I believe grief is different.

Even though I still run to hide in spaces where I can process in peace, I am aware of my running. Losing someone or living with depression are some of life’s hardest phases through which to maintain this awareness. I was recently inspired to read a writer’s beautiful and accurate description of grief. He likened it to waves in the ocean. I think this is a far better description than the box because the ocean is expansive and sometimes when you look far, infinite. That’s how I imagine grief to be. It’s not this small thing we can hold and stuff into a tiny space when it begins to hurt. It’s the opposite of that. So when we’re faced with the beginning stages of grief – in those first hours and days – it feels like the waves are coming in non-stop. One right after the other. Never-ending. And they come crashing down hard! I mean, “face in the sand, tumbling on rocks” hard. Everything we have gets thrown off track, and everything we control is now no longer up to us. It’s scary! There is no space or time between those waves where we can stand up or stick our heads out long enough to catch a full breath. Everything feels rushed in the slowest way imaginable.

This is how I felt when my grandfather died when my favorite singer died when I went through a hard breakup. A loss doesn’t have to mean the end of life. It’s the end of something. Sometimes, it’s the end of some part of yourself. And in those first few days, I was underwater. You literally have to throw your hands up in the air and allow the flood to blow everything to pieces. And you watch yourself get thrown into the tumult with it all, and I’ve noticed that the more you scramble to stay on top, the more grief kicks you down – like it wants you to get to a point where standing up is no longer even an option for you. I liken this to your own metaphorical death; because when you lose someone, you have to die a little with them, too. Something of yourself has to pass on so that you can understand how grief works so that you can teach your scared and running Herculean family that this death is also OK.

I don’t believe that time heals all wounds. I think that’s bullshit. I think that’s what we’ve been led to believe so that we’ll stop talking about our grief with people who pretend their wounds are just little scars. I also don’t believe time heals all grief. We’ve adopted the mentality that time is an action. And maybe for some things, it is. But for this? Time is just space. Space between those waves where we can finally stand up and take a full breath in without feeling like our lungs are collapsing. Time is space – no matter how brief – where we can get out of bed, or have a normal conversation, or smile just because. And this space exists between crests of waves that are always going to be there because grief doesn’t end. It doesn’t get easier or better. We just get stronger. And we gain more space in which to see the waves approaching, and we can prepare. We can anticipate that it’s going to hurt when we remember their smile or hear their voice in that one song or remember how much they loved to fish. And the only time in which Time will ever give us healing is when we begin to welcome those waves, not as torture, but as perspective.

If I’ve ever learned anything at all by being who I am in a family who is the polar opposite, is that grief and loss and depression are topics of conversation that should exist, freely and wholly. When we share our stories and give words to our thoughts and feelings, we learn. I am not anyone who has stumbled into this knowledge and advice because I’m smart or wise. I am here because I’ve found that carrying the burden of remaining silent is too heavy, and not for me.

I hope you give your waves a voice, unapologetically and without reserve.

21 thoughts on “Grief and Time – It Doesn’t Get Easier, But That’s the Point

  1. I don’t believe we ever get over a loss, we learn to live with the grief… and I believe in the beginning the waves come at you, just as you explained. Death is a part of us, just as loss stays with us, always. I do have a memory box for everyone I’ve lost, sometimes I need to talk to that person, or feel close to them. A favorite book of theirs, knitting needles, a tobacco pipe. I pull out the box and allow my self to remember and it does get easier to live with the memories but the pain never goes away, time never heals the loss. Beautifully written. Thank you. ~Kim

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kim, thank you for commenting and offering your perspective. I, too, have a little memory box, and it does help to sit down sometimes and reminisce. I agree that the pain can come back so quick, like the loss happened yesterday. But just that chance to FEEL can be so cathartic. Thank you for reading!

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  2. It’s never healthy, to not allow ourselves to grieve fully and properly for what we’d experienced or what we’d lost in our lives, because if we don’t allow ourselves to get consumed wtih the grief we feel in the moment, and just cover it up, then, it’ll find a way, to hit us even harder later on.

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  3. It is the worst, you just find ways around the hurt and pain, it only takes one little nudge and a whole load of memories come flooding back 💖 I love your writing, your courageousness (if that is a word) shows so vibrantly within your writing 🌼

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  4. Definitely, I’ve always believed that nothing heals grief, we just find ways to love around the heart ache and pain, because all it takes it a little nudge, whether it is the smell of perfume, or an earring or even The was someone does their hair, one little nudge and you are back to square one, mourning, taking extra steps to prepare yourself to move on. I love your writing, so expressive and so real, 💖

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  5. I just started blogging and one of my first posts was about the suicide of my father and how I was handling ( or not ) the grief. It did help me to write about it…kind of organize the chaos. I love your article.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, a very beautiful post and this couldn’t have come at a better moment for me! My mother recently passed away and my mind is mixed with different feelings and self imposed of how I should feel. So far, I’ve been taking my mind off it by getting on with the job of cleaning her house although it did hit me a little when I spoke at her memorial service. Thanks for this post.

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  7. Pingback: Grief and Time – It Doesn’t Get Easier, But That’s the Point – The Bipolar Writer – International Badass Activists

  8. Beautiful post and very, very true. When I’ve lost people close to me I’ve noticed that I spent so much time grieving them I didn’t really think about the loss of the person I was with them until much later. It’s a part of your life that’s closed as well and I think that a lot of people (myself included) tend to feel guilty if they think that. But it’s important and a process. Anyway, I’ve gotten off track but thank you for the post!

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    • You’ve actually hinted at something very profound! “you don’t really think about the loss of the person I was with them…” I had to read that a few times, but it speaks volumes! And I didn’t even think about that perspective of it too much, so thank you so much for providing it. It is very true! Allowing yourself to grieve that person can become a journey in and of itself, but at some point, how WE ourselves change in the midst of that is also a transformation. Thank you for reading!


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