As we bid farewell to another year,
I find myself once again, reflecting.
Which honestly, I think I do too often. I’ve never reflected so much in my entire life, as I have in the last 2 years.
Frankly, it’s exhausting.
I find myself looking for fellow reflectors – travelers on this newfound trail of introspection. Those are the people I can really talk to. The people who can skip pleasantries, and understand what it’s like when your life got flipped, turned upside down. Those folks are rare, but easy to identify.
How? By the big questions they’re asking, the books they’re reading, and their willingness to raise their hands – like the annoying kid in school – begging to be called on, ambiguous grievers are often eager to discuss their grief (i.e. overshare asap).
Because ambiguous grievers are isolated unless we find others – our people. And if we are isolated, we aren’t healing.
Looking back, I realize that I noticed these people prior to my own induction into the group, but I never knew what to do with them. I realize now that my ignorance in grief meant I was pretty lousy at offering comfort. Instead, I would offer a “relational story”.
Maybe I’d share that I had a friend with a similar story, or had a friend-of -friend who had a happy ending after your same thing happened to her. Of course, my story offerings were all uninvited and unsolicited commentary. Sorry after the fact, to anyone who was on the receiving end of my then so-called “comfort”.
I just didn’t know any better. Now I do.
I learned this by watching (some very wise, or experienced) friends counsel me. How they showed up for me, I noticed the ones that offered relational story comfort like I had, and how it lacked any real comfort, even though it was always well-intended. What got my attention is what gave me actual comfort, specifically what friends said, or did that helped.
The people who would say things like “I’m sorry, I know you’re hurting and I love you” or “I’m here in you want to talk”, or even “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I’m thinking of you.” Equally helpful were the people (BLESS THEM) who would just listen, like the cousin who booked a flight to spend a long weekend me with doing ALL the mundane things a single mom does, the gently encouraging friend who invited me, without pressure, to her Christmas party THREE times, or the friend who dropped off a 1,000 piece puzzle (of my kids’ faces no less) to keep me busy during a difficult few days without them. Not ONE of these friends shared the ole “relational story” and all of them really, truly, helped me.
As someone who has been living with ambiguous grief for the last two years, and fiercely fighting to get “through” it, I have recently come to accept that this deeply felt loss may never fully leave me. Rather, it is something that has become a part of me, and something I’ll likely always carry with me, and learn to live with, at least in some form. Just like my broken tibia from 5th grade.
And why wouldn’t it?
Ambiguous grief happens only after the loss of non-ambiguous love. It is grief born when your loved one is no longer as they once were to you, yet they haven’t died. That love has to go somewhere, right?
As I look back on the past year, I’m grateful to learn that my own experience in ambiguous grief has actually helped others. I’ve helped not because I have all the answers (far from it!), but because I am simply willing to talk about it. In the world of the social media “highlight reel”, we don’t often see the pain, hardship, or struggles of our friends and family. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It just means they are kept private, often held close for personal reasons. Maybe the griever grew up in a environment where one didn’t “air dirty laundry”, or maybe they struggle with low self-esteem, or lack a sense of belonging. I have learned that another reason we don’t share our setbacks has a lot to do with shame and embarrassment, with worry of rejection or abandonment. All of which leads to isolation, among other things.
I learned about that too, (firsthand) in 2018.
By being curious about my personal experience with grief, and along with the encouragement of trusted friends and even experts in the field, I spent a large part of 2018 studying “AG” and it’s gnarled nuances. I’ve listened to countless stories from those in struggle and I’ve found strength in their resilience. All of which helps me remember I am resilient, too. (or at the very least, striving to be!)
My priorities have shifted in 2018, in large part because I’m now a single parent of three teens who are my first priority. I’m working hard on my mental and physical health and I’m spending more time in prayer and meditation than ever before. I’m spending time with people and activities that help me heal and learning to let go of the things and people that don’t. (I wish I could say I am doing this last part gracefully, but at least I’m trying.)
2017 was the hardest, most trying, and emotionally painful year of my life.
2018 was the second hardest/painful, yielding the most personal growth, and hands-down, the most spiritually fulfilling year of my life.
2019, I would like to be a little easier on my heart, and even more gratifying for my soul. Pretty, pretty please.
While I don’t know what lies ahead, I know who I am, and I know that I’m not alone.
Thanks to my people for being with me this year. Even if you told me about your neighbor’s sister’s best friend’s high school guidance counselor who also had my same story.
I understand and am oh, so grateful.
PS – You can learn more about ambiguous grief and even take an assessment to better understand if this is something you may be experiencing, by checking out: www.ambiguousgrief.com