Permission to grieve

I want to wear black.  Everyday. Because there is no color right now in my life.   And I want to cover my head and throw ashes on it. I want everyone who sees me to know that my life is not OK in any way, that it has been forever altered and that a piece of my heart has been broken, maimed, and I am walking around only half alive.

I want to be able to take time off.  I want to be able to rock in my chair, holding myself as I cry and wail.  I want to be able to stop grocery shopping for awhile, stop going out in public, stop grooming myself, stop working. 

All of life feels like I burned my tongue on something so piping hot that now I cannot taste a single thing.  There is no flavor, no color, no music. There is only pain.

This is how I felt when I was grieving the death of my marriage.  Divorce is a death, whether we recognize it as such or not.

The death of a partnership, a commitment to love and cherish, the death of plans made together, a future hoped for, secrets shared, intimacy exchanged, an entity that two people had created together.

In my case it was also the home base for our two children.  Their world was forever altered too.

Yet society didn’t want me to wear black.  It wanted me to carry on, keep moving. In fact it seemed to accelerate the demands:  Divorce time eh? Here is a stack of legal paperwork to fill out, and you will need to dig up every tax return, receipt and paper of importance for the past 10 years by Tuesday.  Work a new job to provide for the kids. Get the repairs done on the house so you can sell it. Start college so you can get a real job. Go to therapy and divorce care group so you don’t completely fall apart.  Maintain stability for the kids by maintaining their sports, school and play-date schedule. Oh and since you are now officially a single parent, all of the grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry, and discipline is on you, 24/7, unless you can talk your ex into taking the kids on some weekends.  But even that will not bring relief because you will be worried about them the whole time, praying, crying in their beds and missing them because now there is this horrible void and this ripped apart family and they are in the middle, forced to go with one and then the other but never again all together.

So grieving?  Not on the to-do list today honey, sorry.

I walked around numb.  In shock. I cried almost all the time in the car after the kids were dropped off.  It was my only alone time. I prayed, I screamed, I beat the steering wheel…and sometimes pulled over when I couldn’t see the road anymore.  I didn’t care who thought I was crazy. My world was falling apart and I was supposed to hold it all together and act normal.

In reality I longed to live in a place where I could wear a black veil everyday as an outward expression of the inward pain.

Why do we insist that people rush to get over their heartbreaks and muster up that smile and sing about the sun coming up tomorrow?

We are missing a HUGE part of really being able to put our lives back together if we try to bypass the pain.

Folks, without grieving there can be no real healing. 

If we don’t allow time to truly grieve, we will not be able to move on as a healthy person, and instead we will continue to shove the loss and heartbreak so deep down that it will feed all of our roots and end up growing into everything we do, showing up through bitterness, resentment, self-pity, anger, hopelessness, and a general sense of not being fully alive – otherwise known as depression.

You have to make time to grieve.  Sit with the pain. Look it square in the face and tell it:  I see you.  I feel you. You hurt like hell.  You are ripping me apart. You are making life so hard right now.  But I know that you are here to make me better. I know that the sun will shine again (OK orphan Annie, you can start humming it but don’t belt it out quite yet) and that I will move on from this place.  But for now I simply acknowledge you, and I allow you to be here as long as it takes.

Sorrow is not looking to take up permanent residence with you.

Bitterness would certainly try, and so would hopelessness, anger and self-pity.  But sorrow is not malicious.  It is only a hurt child, wanting to be hugged.  It is like your first broken heart, needing time and understanding to be able to move on and love again.  It is the universal heaviness, compassionate and quiet, shared by millions across the planet.

Sorrow is here to let you empty all of your pain into it, and then it will go away. OK, maybe not ALL of the pain – but the vast majority – at least the part that keeps you from breathing, sleeping or driving without crying.  

Sorrow has to take it all in.  So sit with it, tell it how you feel, allow it to be.

There is something beautiful about sorrow really.  Think of all the inspiration it has created over the years.  It strips you down to your core, and humbly unites you with all those who have suffered before you.  It reminds you what it is like to be fully human. It brings you into something bigger than just yourself, breaking you out of the illusion of what matters, it creates a fissure which can shine the light out from within.  Sorrow is proof that you have loved.

So don’t be afraid of it.

Instead, grieve like it’s your day job.

Write poems, journal, take prayer walks, throw things, cry hot tears, write letters and then burn them, go through memorabilia, cry over it and then pack it away, thank God for the good memories, spend time with your friends, take warm baths, accept every hug that people are willing to give, tell them it hurts but that you are still alive and taking it one day at a time. Say no to every engagement that comes up and instead say yes to Ben to Jerry’s and stay home to watch your favorite movie in your comfiest socks.  I remember taking so many walks in the woods…that is where, under a tree, I ceremoniously buried my wedding band.

No one ever saw or knew.  But it was significant to me. I learned to allow the grief to walk with me.

Remember that after a heavy loss you are in the emotional ER, and you need TIME to heal.  That starts with time to GRIEVE.

So be patient with yourself. It’s OK. Give yourself permission.

Even if the whole world shrugs and acts indifferent to your heartbreak – tend to your wound.  It’s REAL.

It hurts.

But with some time, acknowledgement and TLC, it WILL heal.

And sorrow always leaves gifts behind.  You will possess a bigger, more sensitive heart, you will have the wisdom that comes from suffering, you will be able to bless others with the empathetic spirit it will create in you.  You will never forget your time with sorrow. But it will be a memory, because it will have moved on – YOU will have moved on – past the pain back into fullness of life. You will bear the mark of sorrow, a scar, a tenderness, and you will not be the same.  But you will come out of this triumphantly.

It may seem hard to believe, but you are still breathing.  Your story doesn’t end here. There is more life for you to live.

Be strong, take heart, and wait on the Lord. 

“[He has sent me] to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”  Isaiah 61

4 thoughts on “Permission to grieve

  1. It has always seemed strange to me that people take time off to grieve after a death, but they don’t take time to grieve after a heartbreak. Divorce is an admission that something went wrong with your marriage and that hurts horribly. I have to agree with you that you should take time to grieve for the loss of your partner, even if they have moved on and you haven’t, because without grieving you will take longer to heal.


    1. Yes! Really any loss will bring on grief and if we allow that process to run its course we will be able to recover much faster. For some reason, society doesn’t like to recognize emotional trauma if it doesn’t involve a physical death.

      Liked by 1 person

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