There is a quote I recently read about healing after the death of a loved one, and it’s one that I wish I had heard years ago. I saw it within the work of Dr. Joanne Cacciatore (http://centerforlossandtrauma.blogspot.ca/), and unfortunately, I can’t find the exact reference, so I will paraphrase her words:
It’s not about learning how to not miss someone,
it’s about learning how to live well again, while missing them.
I think this one sentence captures it all. It shines light on a misinterpretation of how to heal grief, and it invites a realistic integration of love and loss at the same time.
When my partner Cam died, I was plunked into the terrifying and raw state of grief, and didn’t know which way was up. I was drowning.
I constantly wondered how long the pain would last. I wished and prayed that I would wake up one day and it would be over, and my life would be back to normal. I yearned to be the person I was before my world was turned upside down.
I thought I was supposed to be “over it.” I thought I was supposed to “get on with life,” “not be sad,” and “keep my chin up.” I had fallen victim to the misconception that healing grief meant that I had to arrive at the (impossible) endpoint and conclusion that I no longer missed him.
Instead, over and over, reality of my life punched me in the stomach. I suffered the unrelenting and unbearable pain of missing Cam; and started to believe that I was doing something wrong.
I felt shame.
Which translated to internalizing my pain and my story.
“How are you?” people would ask. “Fine,” I would reply. I wasn’t fine.
I would remember him in private, as if my memories of our life together were somehow unjustifiable now that he was dead.
This is why Dr. Cacciatore’s words are so important: It’s not about learning how to not miss someone, it’s about learning how to live again, while missing them.
That simple distinction opens the door for so much possibility to integrate a death in a healthy way. It invites permission to mourn a loss while acknowledging that there is a very intense and real struggle to learn how to live again without the person who had been a part of, and shaped your life.
Looking back with “kindsight,” I often think about situations when I could have used this wisdom and have wondered if it would have influenced what I would have said or done to express myself and my hurt in a different way.
I think I would have had more clarity around why I felt like a stranger to myself, lost (literally and figuratively), and why I behaved so erratically – I was learning to live again, while missing him.
I think I would have been able to see that ME, right down to my world-view and self-identity, was affected by his death, and in the process of being reconstructed and reorganized.
I think I would have had different words to express what I was going through. Instead of replying, “fine,” when asked, “how are you?” I might have said, “Overwhelmed. I’m learning to live again, without and while missing the man I wanted to share my life with.”