Will the Pain Ever Go Away?
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How long does it take for the severe grief to go away? I've felt this heaviness in the pit of my stomach, my heart and chest literally aching, and she's been gone for 16 months. I still cry sometimes when no one else is home. The missing her hurts so much. The heart ache goes from front to back, like a big black hole on both sides of my body, sucking the life out of the rest of my body.
This might sound dramatic, so I want to include that the grief isn't as debilitating as those first several months, but I just thought that after 16 months I wouldn't still feel so damn much pain. I've lost enough people I love to know that it gets easier to walk around and exist, but when it's one of the ones that you existed in tandem with, what then? What now? How do people do this? How do I do this?
Dying on the inside
I could tell you that grief is the price of love and with a love so big, the grief will match, but when my closest beloveds died, words like these felt like toy Nerf bullets hitting me, bouncing off my prayers for relief, and landing on a cold floor. Most of us cannot digest words that feel like polyurethane foam on a cold floor in the face of profound grief.
Let’s instead start with permission to be exactly where you are in the process.
Give. Yourself. Unconditional. Permission.
Thinking it should be happening differently, that you should be hurting less by now, is part of the process.
I want to address that you said, “this might sound dramatic”. Being devastated over the loss of someone you love most is not dramatic. It is sane. With love I wonder, were you by chance raised in a family that, while loving and well-meaning, didn’t know how to create emotional safety? So you learned to judge some of your strongest and most tender emotions as needing to be different, or not quite allowed?
Emotional safety happens when none of our emotions need to be shut down to make others comfortable. In an emotionally safe home, all emotions are allowed. Someone got it wrong a long time ago when they said that stopping a kid from crying when they’re upset will help them to later in life not have their emotions run the show. It’s quite the opposite, but the misinformation went viral and has been creating suffering ever since.
Your feelings are allowed and part of being a healthy human. If you try to shut them down, they will eventually come out sideways. When we repress instead of letting the waves move through, we find ourselves needing to have a few more drinks along the way or bury ourselves in work, anything to numb what’s actually happening beneath the surface. Aka, the emotions are actually tucked away in the dark... quietly (and disruptively) running the show.
If you keep waking up, getting up, and engaging with life, while also sleeping when you need it and honoring your broken heart, taking time to touch into the ache and sit with it, the black hole — you articulated it so perfectly — will begin to have less gravitational pull. It will no longer eat the light from everything inside you. There will be momentary eclipses, for a long time, but it won’t be all-encompassing.
You did the right thing writing me, connecting with another human, telling the truth. We need human reflection and connection to heal. We need to be reminded that we are not alone or doing it wrong. We need to be sure that what is happening inside us is normal. My love, you have not fallen off the well-tread path of human grief into an abyss in some out-of-bounds woods. You and I are walking this grief path together and wishing it were different is allowed. EVERYTHING IS ALLOWED.
Speaking of woods, though, please get your body outside into nature. Often.
Walk, watch, and breathe. Feel your feet on the earth. Lay down if you’re willing. Feel the vibration of this planet we’re living on. Watch the birds, trees, and water. If you don’t have access to all three, find one. When you pay attention, you just might get a hit of the wonder that is life itself. It might even nourish you.
Very recently, I was doggie paddling in the black abyss of grief and by some grace, a voice inside me said get out of the house, immediately. When we change locations we change our sensations. My son and I went to the beach with our kite and for more than an hour, I just put all my attention on feeling my body breathe while I watched a big blue octopus whip around in the sky at the end of a string we took turns holding.
This didn’t change that people I love are no longer in their bodies. It didn’t change that their absence is gutting. But when I turned my attention towards life, when I connected to the natural world, the Mother, an organic reorientation just started to happen, from what is gone to what is here.
The process is supposed to be slow and it's not intended to disconnect you from her. It can't. Her physical absence is supposed to change you — I beg that you just don’t let it close you to life. There are still gifts for you here.
Before I end I want to note that it sounds like you are in relationship with the wisdom of your body, whether you know it or not. You described with precision how you are experiencing grief in your physical structure. You can use this power of attention to notice what nourishes you and what depletes you. What food, drinks, company, conversations, activities, lack of activities, books, sleep routines deplete you and which nourish you? This is important accounting to take stock of right now. Make sure the things that nourish you are happening more frequently than the depleters. It’s worth saying plainly: a lot of our common soothers deplete us. They’re not wrong; they can be a resource that simply are of more benefit when balanced with nourishers.
There are plenty of online guided meditations, breathing practices, yoga practices, exercise classes, etc, ranging from a couple of minutes to hours. What do you need to come back home to yourself and to life, over and over again? Just start small. Orient towards life and hold the grief like a small child you deeply love, giving it permission. I’m here practicing alongside you. You can’t do it wrong. Everything changes and this will, too.
I love you,
Note: I am not a licensed physician or therapist. These letters are not intended to diagnose, treat, or offer medical advice.