Grief as a Gift

I know, even I’m surprised to see that title. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gift that sucks. A lot. And then some. And then a bit more on top of that. And then a bit more crammed in on top. And, when you least expect it, a little more sneaking up behind you.

It doesn’t matter what the grief is from, either. It could be from losing someone you love, or a breakup. A job loss, a hope that never materialized. We mourn people, pets, occasions, opportunities. And well we should. It keeps us human. If you lose someone or something important and no part of you grieves for it…then there is something out of balance in your brain or your life. We, as human beings, are designed to grieve. Sucks, right?

There are two funny things about grief though.

One is that grief is not really ever about the present moment. It’s a little bit about the past and a lot about the future. If we are grieving a person, we think of the things we did with them before (past) that we won’t get to do again (future). We grieve the plans we won’t get to make, the fact that they won’t see our new house, new dog, new book new baby new outfit bad haircut good choice….it goes on and on. But in this specific moment, there is no difference from any other moment when they weren’t around. They could be in the bathroom, you could be out of town – there are a million times you didn’t see them, even if only just briefly, so this moment is no different from those moments that came before. Grieving the job you didn’t get isn’t about the present moment (we know you’ve survived into the present moment, so on some level, you’re ok). It’s about the past (dammit I wanted to be rid of that angry boss who has driven me nuts for three years!) and the future (we were going to have enough money to buy this, to move there, to pay off that loan).

The second funny thing is that grief pushes us into the present moment. Ironic, isn’t it? It forces us to confront what we want, what we think we want, what we’ve been doing, and how we’ve been doing it. Grieving that horrible haircut (yes, it happens) brings up our ‘stuff’. We pretend it’s about the haircut, but it’s really about us. “Dammit, I knew I should have said I didn’t want it this short.” (Why am I always such a pushover?) “He didn’t do what I asked at all!” (Nobody ever listens to me!) “I can’t believe I spent this much money on something I hate.” (What the crap is with me and money anyway?!) Even when it’s about somebody else, it’s about us. Especially then.

Grieving for a person is more complex, but essentially the same thing.

A job, a relationship, a move – it’s all the same. It smacks us upside the head and asks us to notice the gift. Maybe it’s what that person (pet, job) inspired in you that you’ve felt you couldn’t find on your own. Maybe they or it filled in a blank you haven’t known how to do or have been afraid to. Maybe that loss is making you aware of what you’ve needed to change or do, only you’ve talked yourself out of. There are  billions of gifts. I don’t know what yours are. I know I’ve had several, and I’m grateful for all of them.

Someone I know who is very wise and generous told me that the gift/s you get from grief are wrapped up with and surrounded by  crap (ok, she used another word). And you’ve got to work your way through the crap to fully embrace the gift – spoonful by crappy, seemingly never-ending spoonful. And it sucks. I believe we’ve established that. But if you’re in the crap anyway – and how could you not be, if you’re grieving….if you allow it to shut you down, turn off your emotions, lose your family, cry, scream, shout, and hate it….and you don’t let yourself get the gift that came with all that crap? ….well, that just doesn’t seem fair to me. I think we all deserve better than that.

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