Understanding Grief


Do You Ever Get Over It? 

The voice of the woman on the phone was rough, revealing the jagged edges of her pain. “Do you ever get over it?” she asked me.

“No,” I answered her honestly. “I don’t think you ever get over it. Does it stop hurting so much, and hurting all the time? Yes. It does. It will. Trust me on this.” 

Pain like this woman was feeling, pain like I felt, is bewildering, unimaginable in its all-encompassing, merciless presence. There is no escape from it, not even in sleep. It crushes you until you think there is nothing left of you to destroy, and then it crushes you some more. 

But then, you find that, in spite of the pain, there is still a tiny, glowing ember of hope somewhere inside you, buried so deeply that the pain could not snuff it out. This is the ember you must nourish and shelter until it burns brightly again. You nourish it by believing in it. You get up each day and go through the motions of living, because by doing so you do begin to live again. You hold the image of that hope before you, and it becomes the beacon that you follow into the future, one step at a time. 

When you are in the grip of sorrow, it is hard, even impossible, to believe that the future can hold happiness. Grief narrows our vision to the tiny perimeter of our cold, lost self. However, the whole, wide world of possibility, love, and joy, is still there for us. True, it is not the same landscape that seemed to surround us before tragedy struck. Things have changed, and they will forever be different from before. They will be different, but they can still be good. 

You have changed, as well. You can never again be complacent, taking for granted the times of happiness, the people who love you, and the gifts that come to you. They are doubly precious, because you understand their value. Each moment expands when you realize that it is, indeed, a gift. Each day is a miracle, from sunup to sundown on this unbelievable, inexpressively improbable, life-sustaining planet. When you stop to think that we do not really know what keeps any one of us alive and aware from one moment to the next, you see God in every person you meet. The sorrow is still with you, but it is only a part of the life you experience. As hope grows, sorrow diminishes. 

Today, I encountered a woman who had not spoken with me since Carol died. I said hello, and she looked startled to see me. Hesitantly, she asked how I was doing. “I heard you moved,” she said. 

What I saw in her face, and heard in her careful words, was the expectation of that old, familiar pain. I wanted to tell her that I have spent two years on a healing journey. I wanted to tell her that I have grown far beyond the person I was before tragedy struck. I wanted her to see the hope that has grown bright and strong within me, and to understand how many times I gained victory over despair by putting one foot in front of the other, even when I felt like quitting. I wanted her to understand, and to go away with a message to tell her friends, a message of hope and courage in a world that can be dark and frightening, so that they would speak of me, not in sad, careful whispers, but openly and bravely. I wanted her to see me as I now see myself.

“Yes, we moved,” I said. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and she was on her way. I couldn’t tell her, not then, not there. It is too much, this story of mine. How to tell it in a few, well-chosen sentences? I can’t. However, I can tell you, and so I will. You don’t get over it, but it does get better. It gets good again. Trust me on this.

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