Sunday, April 27, 2014
"Time and Grief" (Part 2)
Part 2 of “Time and Grief” by Pat Schwiebert, R.N. – Executive Director, Grief Watch
It is natural for us to gauge our life after a loss as we anticipate and then go through the first times—first day, the first week, the first month, the first time we venture out in public, the first time we went back to school, or church, or work, the first summer, the first Christmas, the first vacation, the first time we laughed. These first times are like benchmarks, notches in our belt that prove we are surviving when we weren’t sure we wanted to, or didn’t know we could.
There’s an empty chair at the table. There’s the conversation that seems to be just noise, having little to do with the absent one about whom we are all thinking but not daring to speak. We still prepare more food than we now need because we haven’t yet figured out how to cook for one less person. Sometimes the food seems to have no taste, and is not able to do what we want it to do—to fill that huge hole within us.
Sometimes what we need to do is to take a time out from our regular activities to reflect on what has happened to our personal world, as we knew it before our great loss. To do so is not to run away from life but simply to realize that to act as if nothing has happened doesn’t work. This loss is too big to allow us to pretend that it hasn’t had a big impact on us. It’s in the quiet time, when we shut off our thinking, others will have to be okay with our need to bow out for a while. Remember that during grief our job is to take care of ourselves, not to take care of our friends. When it’s time to re-enter a normal routine, it’s our choice what we will reinstate and what we decide to lay aside. Loss tends to redefine our priorities. What used to be important may not be as important now. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Time heals what reason cannot. In the end, time will change things. The intensity we experience when grief is new, where we can see nothing but our loss, and where every moment is filled with thoughts of the one who died will gradually diminish and become softer. Time forces the big picture of life back into our vision whether we like it or not. This happens in our lives all the time. Remember how when we first fell in love with someone, we were totally preoccupied with only that other person, until gradually a more balanced existence was restored. Or when we did (what we thought was) some terrible thing and we were sure everybody would never let us forget it, we came to find out a few months down the road that most people had forgotten the incident. In the months (maybe years) following a loss, life will eventually start to re-emerge, and life on this planet will once again seem possible. This will not happen because we come to understand the death more clearly but because, with the passage of time, the unanswered questions will become easier to live with.
Time will not remove grief entirely. The scars of our grief will remain and we may find ourselves ambushed by a fresh wave of grief at any time. But needing to know the answers to the “why” questions won’t seem quite so important as it once was.
Time is a gift that we have taken for granted. We’ve been given our lives one moment at a time. This is good.