Editor’s note: The Learning to Live column is written monthly by a community member involved in the collaborative partnership formed to encourage meaningful conversations about loss, grief, growth and transformation.
As much as we hate it, people we love die. No ifs, ands, or buts — just when. No salve can be applied. No panacea found.
There’s no “right” way to grieve. No degrees conferred when, maybe, we are able to string some decent days together. One step forward, two steps back. Breathe. Baby steps. Grief can’t be quantified or qualified, measured or coded.
There’s no “wrong” way, either. Some people pack up their grief, fold and put it away neatly, taking it out only on anniversaries or special holidays. Whatever and however, if it works, then we should work it.
I dealt with my grief by not dealing with it. I stuffed my dark feelings like ragged clothes in a laundry hamper. I thought to myself, “I’ll get to that.” After all, our culture often promotes avoidance, and I am good at procrastination. Rather than “If it feels good, do it,” some of us embrace the idea that, “If it hurts, evade it.” I was afraid to realize my feelings. Yet avoiding them was exhausting.
Grief takes time to pass. Eventually, by working with a counselor and through a practice of meditation, I came to understand that my fear of sitting with my feelings of sadness was actually worse than the sadness itself.
Then, four simple words from meditation: “Where would he go?”
There wasn’t a lightning bolt or an Oprah-like “Ah ha” moment. Rather, it was like a slow dawn: My loved one was no longer present, but was he absent entirely? Could it be that our loved ones do not so much pass away, but rather pass along in the evolution of their journey?
Before, I was only aware of his absence. By changing the way I looked at it, I began to see the energy and relationship between the living things in the universe — and the interconnectedness between the essence of him, of me and of the divine.
This new perspective has given me the gift of noticing. My loved one (my dad) can be found anytime I am present enough to look for him. He can be found in a season, a smell and a memory. He can be found in a shared favorite song and in the sky — regardless of the weather. In his Dad-isms and in the pearls of wisdom he dropped, which I remember and live by all these years later. He can be found in the deep and abiding love shared among the family ... of which he remains a part.
So no, there is no “cure” for grief. No pat answers, only questions. And the suggestion to lean in and pay attention to the moments in which our loved ones can be found. While I still miss my dad, I can also be grateful for the gifts of feeling my feelings and for finding joy in how he lives on in me and the everyday things around me.
Pam Lehrman is a successful survivor of trauma, grief, loss and substance abuse, and is a part of the Learning to Live: What’s Your Story group. A master’s candidate in Penn State’s counselor education program, she hopes to use her experience to help her clients also overcome feelings associated with grief and loss.