From a young age, all our parents want to do is protect us. They make it their mission to shield us from painful experiences, rejection, hurt and disappointment. They might even offer us soft lies and euphemisms when we turn to them for the answers to difficult questions such as, “Why doesn’t Santa just use the front door?” or, “Mummy, will you live forever?” because how is a parent meant to shatter the very heart they care about the most into tiny, irreparable pieces because the truth expects them to?
Like cutting our grapes into careful halves to prevent us from choking, they only tell us half the story at a time because they’re not sure how much we should be exposed to.
Then we grow up and realise that being human is not all sh*ts, giggles and cucumber sandwiches cut into neat little squares after all. We got punked.
We also realise that Ronan Keating was the ultimate truth-teller: life IS a cranky ol’ rollercoaster, with grief ranking as the roughest white-knuckle whirligig in the world – and one we must all grudgingly have a go on sooner or later.
In this blog post, we dive into the grief weeds – and the flowers – and discuss how grief really is the greatest expression of love we have.
What is grief?
“With all the love I have for her. I don’t know where to put it now.” – Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge)
In just a few words, the one and only Fleabag managed to articulate exactly why grief aches the way it does.
It’s just another name for love with no place to go. You are its only home.
It’s not always defined by death but by the presence of the intense sorrow we feel when faced with bereavement and heartbreak.
When you break it down in simple human terms, grief is but a pseudonym for the love we feel when we lose someone or something we are emotionally connected to. It’s not always defined by death but by the presence of the intense sorrow we feel when faced with bereavement and heartbreak. It can present itself in many different emotions or even physical symptoms, and whilst it can feel utterly unbearable to navigate, it’s important to know that it’s a healthy process of healing to help you make sense of the loss, whichever shape it takes in your personal life.
Grief is a messy, unpredictable, impossible and untameable beast that’s hard to befriend and always in a state of flux. Which brings us onto the ball in the box – an analogy Twitter user Lauren Herschel learned from her therapist and kindly shared to help others better understand their grief.
Imagine your life is a box with a big ball inside it and a pain button. In the beginning, when grief is at its rawest, the big ball rattles around inside, hitting the pain button regularly. Over time, the ball shrinks in size and hits the pain button less often, rolling over it at random and unexpected intervals. You can be washing your armpits in the bath or sat at a red light and the pain will make itself known in the corners of your eyes and in the goose-bumps on your skin as a memory resurfaces without due warning. The ball may be smaller, but every time it connects with the pain button, it still packs the same heavyweight punch as the very first time we felt it. The frequency of those punches lessens over time as the ball shrinks but the intensity remains the same.
Bottom line: every grieving person has their own box of balls to juggle, so don’t compare your balls to the size of someone else’s. Childish humour is the ultimate coping mechanism, guys.
Life through the lens of grief
As unreachable as the thought can be during the early stages of grief, you will reclaim your joy at some point.
Following the unexpected death of her brother Jordan Feldstein, actress Beanie Feldstein penned a first-person essay for InStyle called ‘Grief Glasses’ (definitely worth bookmarking btw). In it, she describes the way she sees the world now she’s got the grief glasses on.
She writes, “And while I wish I could rip my grief glasses off my face and have it all be a dream, I try to recognize what the glasses have given me: that unique blend of humanity that is simultaneously the darkest dark and the brightest bright.”
Once you know grief, you’ll never be able to go back and unfeel it and you’ll never be able to unsee it either – it colours every experience we have but not all of that experience is tainted with melancholy.
Sadness is acutely sharpened by loss, indefinitely so, but so too is life and all at once, you find yourself with a new aching awareness for the brevity of existence and an enriched sense of gratitude for short-lived, ephemeral joy – be it a balmy August sunset enough to reduce you to happy tears, the final chapter of a book or the smell of your new born baby; all the little things are much, much bigger now. You’re here – present, seeing, loving, living and feeling every damn part of it.
“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” – Rumi.
Although the 5 stages of grief offer a framework for the grieving process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – your pain is not a hurdle to get over within a certain time period, nor is it something that needs to be fixed and forgotten. It’s like scar tissue, sometimes it’s prickly and raised, other days it sits a little lighter on the skin; faded but ever present – a sign of who you are and the stories you tell.
Grief cannot exist without love, and what you’re feeling is a testament to the bond you shared with that now absent person
Grief cannot exist without love, and what you’re feeling is a testament to the bond you shared with that now absent person or thing and the mark they left on your life. It’s not something you need to defeat, rather it’s something you’ll learn to coexist with as you slowly adjust to the loss. Honour the fragile bandwidth of your heart and lean into the love you have for that special someone you’ve lost by mourning unapologetically and openly. Grieve with your chest and grant yourself the permission to feel the full range of emotion without inhibition.
The idea of bright sides and silver linings within the landscape of loss might seem inconceivable to most, but when you’re still enough to look at a grief-stricken you through the eyes of another, you’ll recognise that, miraculously, you’re here – not only surviving but growing through the most impossible pain you’ll ever know.
And in that moment, you’ll call a truce and let love and loss mix together like two watercolours, until you can no longer tell them apart.