Bowing Down to Loss

This is the job of the living–to be willing to bow down before EVERYTHING that is bigger than you. And nearly everything in this world is bigger than you. Let your willingness be the only big thing about you.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

Preface

Elizabeth Gilbert just wrote the most brilliant Facebook piece yesterday about the grieving process, acceptance, and allowing yourself to feel the emotions of loss. This piece moved me so much, that it prompted me to think about my own reactions to loss.

Loss

When people we love are taken from us, it’s the worst, isn’t it? It’s like we have forgotten that these people we love were never ours to begin with.

No one belongs to us. And yet, when we love someone, we begin to subconsciously feel like God will never allow that person to leave our lives in any capacity. Or we would like to think that if they have to leave, that we would have some say so, or control, over how they leave us.

Sometimes those we love die.

Other times they decide to leave us.

And sometimes they may not physically leave us, but they become so different that we feel as if they have left us, because we can no longer relate to who they are.

When any of the aforementioned happens, my natural (although not productive) reaction is to try to change the situation in my mind, instead of accepting it. However, trying to change the situation only prolongs the process of grieving the loss.

Whereas acceptance, or allowing myself to feel the pain, actually causes me to move through the process.

When I was 16, my Grandma Sommers, who was a big part of my life and helped to raise me, died. She and my grandfather lived in the house behind us. I went to their house and visited them nearly everyday, up until she died.

And then I stopped.

My grandfather asked me to come over to visit as I always had. I mean, he wasn’t asking me to do anything difficult, right? All I had to do was to simply WALK ACROSS MY BACKYARD and open the back door (which he often left open) and to walk in and sit in a rocking chair next to him and listen to him tell stories. But I wouldn’t go. The thought of sitting in grandma’s rocking chair meant that I would crumble and I thought I couldn’t handle that. I didn’t want to sit in her empty chair and feel the loss.

Until one day, I missed my grandpa. And I knew he was lonely. So, I decided to visit.

It was the shortest visit in the history of visits. I maybe was there two minutes, tops. He had the opportunity to tell me about how he learned to heat up a sweet potato from the garden in his microwave, and I hadn’t even sat down, but I LOOKED at her chair, and the tears started to well up, and I told him I needed to go.

Grandpa walked me to the back door, as he always did, because he wanted to watch me walk home to see if I made it safely, without anyone snatching me up or something. He gave me a hug, and said, “We love you,” and then the tears I had been trying to hold in during those two minutes came out in a gasp–just because of his PRONOUN USAGE–instead of saying “I love you,” he said, “We love you,” which reminded me that there was no longer A WE.

Loud crying and gasping started as I ran–not walked–to my home, and closed the door behind me. I ran upstairs to my bedroom, closed the door, lied down on my bed, put my face on my pillow, and CRIED. I was feeling the loss. Finally. I was willing to feel the pain.

Each time I went to visit Grandpa Sommers, my visits lasted a little longer. I had a little more capacity each time, to accept that Grandma was gone. I was learning to tolerate the voice of grief in my head that said, “She’s never coming back. Never.” I listened to the voice. I cried. And I was willing to accept the truth.

The truth is never easy, but the sooner we bow down to it, the sooner we can have a chance to move forward.

There are so many times in my life, where grief pulled the rug out from underneath me, and instead of allowing myself to cry on the floor from the pain of the fall or loss, I jumped up and tried to grab the rug instead. Grabbing the rug leads to thinking that you know better than God. It leads to thinking you can change other people or their situations if you just work harder.

And please don’t think I’m knocking doing the work. There is a time and place for doing the work. But the process of grieving is no more work than showing up. It’s being willing to walk across the backyard and hold your grandfather’s hand for just a moment. It’s being willing to cry in your pillow every night, instead of stuffing and pretending everything is okay. You know what stuffing and pretending is? That’s depression (Liz Gilbert taught me that)– it’s not grief.

I know that grief comes and goes. And that some losses are ones that we can never completely recover from. There are losses that are simply incomprehensible to us. We wonder, “Why was this person taken away from this world?”

And yet, we somehow accept. And cry. And grieve. We do this on our knees, or sometimes alone, and sometimes in the presence of others. Some days truly suck and then you may feel better, and you have another sucky day. But you let yourself feel it all–and know that you are still here. And you are willing to feel it and walk through, to see what’s on the other side.

My grandma Sommers. (Stole this photo from Cindy Huss’ FB page).

Uncle Roy

I do not have a fancy house or amazing car or a six figure salary. But I do have something money cannot buy–I have an Uncle Roy.


Having an Uncle Roy is like having a dial a therapist, quite literally because he is a therapist and he always answers your calls. Even if it’s 2:00 a.m…especially if it’s 2:00 am.

Uncle Roy listens. Then he says something profound. Then once you’ve calmed down, he says something witty. And before you know it, you’re feeling centered again.

I have wanted to write about Uncle Roy for awhile, but I don’t know if any words I say can do him justice. I mean, how do you begin to describe a person who invested hours of his time in order to save your life?  The main thing I can tell you is this: everyone needs an uncle Roy.

When everyone had given up hope that I would leave an abusive marriage, Uncle Roy didn’t. When everyone was so sick of hearing me sing verse 742 of the same damn (metaphorical) song and dance, Uncle Roy still gave me the microphone and  said, “Sing louder, because you need to hear yourself. You need to hear your story and realize what’s really going on.” When everyone else told me that my situation freaked them out, Uncle Roy remained calm. When others backed away from me, Uncle Roy came closer.

Everyone needs an Uncle Roy.

When I started to date after my divorce and had dating anxiety, Uncle Roy made me laugh when I told him and Aunt Jeanne about some of the odd and strange men I met through online dating. I laughed and laughed until I couldn’t possibly be hurt or resentful or anxious anymore. Everything that didn’t work out was just too damn funny to be upset by it. But this just amazed me–how my uncle’s jokes could transform a situation that felt like a tragedy into something hilarious, all the while showing empathy at the same time. That’s a GIFT. “When you’re laughing, you’re healing,” he says.

When I became involved in a new relationship with a guy I really liked, my PTSD would sometimes rear its ugly head. It was during these times that my uncle taught me the important truth: “Healthy relationships are not fragile.” And this is what that means: there’s no need to overanalyze things that you did or your partner did or to fear that little mistakes may tear things apart.  Because if it’s healthy and good and the right fit, it will naturally work. And if it’s not, it will start to unravel. This is the natural order of things. You must let go and let it unravel if that’s what it starts to do.

Uncle Roy taught me that I don’t ever have to have all the pieces of a puzzle or all the information I’m seeking to make an informed decision. He taught me this: HOW YOU FEEL about a situation is enough to know how to proceed. If you continually feel unhappy in a certain relationship, your feelings are enough evidence to end it. If you continually feel anxious or resentful towards someone, that’s important information to pay attention to.  If you wake up in the morning and never want to go to your job, that’s a feeling that you need to deal with. If you look out your window and can’t stand where you live, that feeling is information.

You see, these are things that many of us don’t learn growing up. But it’s never to late to learn them. It’s never to late to listen to yourself. And it’s never to late to believe you have everything you need to solve the problem you’re facing.

Uncle Roy has not had a life without hardship. Without divulging too much of his personal info (however, he doesn’t know I’m writing this, because he cannot operate a computer), Uncle Roy went through a painful divorce in his twenties. He experienced the heartache that many involved fathers feel when they can no longer see their children everyday. He felt a deep devastation of betrayal in his life and it took hard work to just keep doing the next thing and not allow his depression to devour him.

But he did it. He woke up everyday, and did what he thought was the right thing to do. And just kept doing that again and again. He eventually turned his shit into fertilizer in his practice as a therapist. He began to help people understand that by doing the next thing, they would survive.  He continued, and still continues, to help others understand the fundamental philosophy of what he refers to as the acronym T.A.K.E., which stands for Tolerance, Acceptance, Kindness, and Encouragement–what he considers to be the foundation of healthy relationships.

I talk about my uncle all the time with others, because I love him.  And also because what I want people to understand is this: you only need one person in your corner. Just one.  And while I do not want to minimize all the incredible people who have played a role in helping me to change the trajectory of my life, Uncle Roy was so pivotal when I was at my lowest of my low.  And he was just there, showing up for me, and somehow never doubting that I could be my own hero.

All you need is one person.  Just one.  I love you, Uncle Roy.