the beauty of grief

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The last little while has felt less heavy. While most people would think that is a good thing, it scares me a little. It’s like I don’t want to step farther away from the days when my dad was here, even if that means things will get easier.

I’ve been writing more on my own lately because I want to remember those first days and weeks. It was really hard for me to process on paper or in documents then, and some of the most difficult moments still haven’t found their way out of me yet. I realized the other day that some parts were so heartbreaking that I lived them once and they never came back to my memory until recently. For all I know, some of those moments may never return. Then there are other parts equally as heartbreaking that live in my mind over and over for some reason. I don’t want to forget them because it’s like if I forget the pain, then I’ve forgotten part of my dad, or part of my family. It was the worst time of my life, but I want to remember it anyway. I want to remember both the good and bad things so that I can remind myself what it feels like to be deeply lost, scared and loved.

At the same time, I want to live presently. I don’t think I’ve ever been in denial since this all happened. I always knew the truth of it, even right after my mom spoke those tragic words. I knew there was no going back no matter how hard we wished for it. I knew it was a nightmare I’d never wake up from because I never fell asleep.

For weeks I listened to the same songs over and over – “View from Heaven,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Lullaby,” “Take it Easy,” and “It is Well.” Those songs help me focus for moments at a time on what my loss really is. I’ve taken more pictures of sunrises, sunsets and the moon than ever before. When biking or skiing, I’ve asked for my dad’s help, or I tell myself I am doing those things for him. So far, I don’t think it’s improved my performance, but it helps me stay focused on goals that will help me get better.

I’m slowly reading a book my friend gave me at my dad’s funeral. It’s called “Heartbroken Open” by Kristene Carlson, a woman who lost her husband in a very random, unexpected way. Her book has resonated with me so many times and explained in perfect words exactly how I’ve felt. The following passage stuck with me since I’ve noticed myself looking at nature and situations in ways I never did before:

“The beauty of grief is presence. Grieving is a very individual and layered process. On my better days, I experienced a calm wellbeing. I noticed the skies never looked so beautiful. I could feel Richard’s love all around me. I missed him deeply and the full life together I always thought we would continue to live and share. Yet each step I took, I felt somehow I was stepping more into me. …

It is so ironic how grief has a way of thrusting you into the present. When you are early into it and just surviving the loss of your loved one, it is natural to go into memory where you are most comfortable, just as it is natural to be terrified of your future. I was in such deep pain at the beginning that I found I could only handle the past and the future in small doses. I learned to acclimate to the present moment because that was the only place where I could live with a sense of equilibrium. When the person who is gone was with you so recently, the whiff of physical need is overpowering. I wasn’t ready to factor in a future without Richard.

“So I learned to live in the midline of my life – in the present, just where I was – with my past to my left and my future to my right.

“When you live in the present your mind is not busy. It is a quiet yet brilliantly clear space because it is uncluttered. You’re not thinking of anything you have to do, or distracted by anywhere you have to go; you are not allowing Thought to drift into the past you miss or the future you fear. You are living in alignment with the moment. When grief catches you, you feel the wave as you roll into it. It is a space where you exist, right now, where life finds you, wherever you are. It is a place of safety that is also shared by the adventurous. It is a concentrated state that is known by rock climbers and rafters and skiers and anyone else who puts themselves in dangerous situations. There is a heightened state of awareness when you live presently; you see every crevice, you feel the fold of rock, the iron-gray air, the numinous texture of the physical world. …

For now I would ride the river, understanding that it is a series of flow, of currents, rapids, and calm … Grief was a current I would not fight by trying to swim upstream. I would let it take me wherever it went. I determined to let each moment present itself, and just be with that.”

The present is what I want to feel and see, even though I don’t want to forget the past.  I want my body and mind to feel everything they need to feel. I want to view the world in ways I never have. I want to recognize its beauty in the center of the world’s struggles. I want it to all unfold slowly so I can truly grasp it.

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