Abstract grief – mourning what never was

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At 17-years-old my best friend lost her life to an accidental overdose.

I remember sitting in the counselor’s office with my mother standing beside me after they hosted a prayer service in her honor the morning after I learned of her passing. I forced myself to go to work that morning and the scent of stale pizza lingered on my thick winter coat.

“Grief is like a ball,” she told me, forming a big ball with her hands. She carefully placed her hands on the table, never breaking eye contact with me and told me that there’s either two ways through grief: through it, or around it. And the latter, it doesn’t heal you the way you deserve.

I sat in therapy the other day and pondered that entire phrase. The simplicity. The truth. The fact that one short analogy changed the entire trajectory of my life.

I became well acquainted with grief over the next few years. I spent days wandering like a zombie, meandering down dead-end roads looking for myself in places I didn’t exist. I spent nights wrapped up in self-pity and loathing, but more importantly, confusion.

Straightforward grief makes sense. Grieving the loss of a life, the end of a relationship, the end of a scenario in your life that played out naturally. It’s clear, there are lines, boundaries, and guides to follow. You cry, or scream, or binge-watch TV shows and let grief take its course, and then you move along. You find a new hobby, a different relationship or you replace the old with the new.

But what about abstract grief? The kind that you don’t quite feel comfortable grieving. The kind that there are not clear lines for, the definition is blurred and you don’t know whether or not you’re “allowed” to grieve.

Over the course of the last few years, I have grieved many things, both straightforward and abstract. The loss of a relationship. A change in friendship. And yet, I have also felt called to grieve the metaphorical death of someone’s identity I thought I understood. I have felt compelled to grieve notions and thoughts, and plans and ideas that never succeeded for me. I have grieved the loss of relationships that I thought were meant to be.

And in the name of transparency, it is f**kin weird.

We’re taught rigidity in our feelings. That x must equal y or that there needs to be a defined outcome.

Good moments = happy.

Bad moments = sad.

Every year when the leaves start to turn and the temperature shifts, I feel a pang of grief. A twinge of sadness, the melancholy current bubbling deep inside of me. Whenever the green, red and white lights twinkle from barren trees and the gaudy, overblown figures of Santa dance merrily from windowsills, my chest feels heavy. I chastise myself and pop another vitamin D tablet, hoping to keep the Winter scaries at bay.

The contrast in emotions and the subsequent feelings of guilt highlight exactly that concept: we’re not taught to let ourselves feel in ways which are natural and healthy, which makes complete sense as to why abstract grief feels so uncomfortable.

After the death of my friend, I went down the rabbit hole of depressing literature looking for answers. The punchline to the joke is that I found the answers I was looking for all along in myself, but I did find a good quote from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking:

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

Grief has no boundaries. It knows not one walk of life. It is the invisible thread that connects us all. It is healthy. It is real.

And you are allowed to feel it, no matter the circumstances. You can grieve something you never knew and may never know. You can grieve the loss of an idea. You can grieve something concrete.

The point is – let the grief come in waves, in paroxysms. Let the grief blind you. Let it rip you open, then let yourself go deeper.

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