Death and grief, one always shadowing the other. Up until a few years ago, I had calculatedly escaped their acquaintance; politely excusing myself from the rituals and festivities surrounding those in my life who passed. The simple truth was I had no idea how to express grief, or more specifically, my grief. It was too engulfing, too overwhelming and was much easier to avoid…so I did…for as long as I could.
My father’s death was a lesson in learning to express grief. Learning how to process it, to accept whatever came out of my pain, to let go. These revelations produced uncomfortable, but insightful contemplation. I’m recognizing and identifying my patterns with much more clarity now, but as always, I am still evolving.
This was all very painfully revealed to me again a few weeks ago with the loss of one of my pets. I become deeply attached to all my animals; and the impending dread that I would need to end her suffering as she became increasingly ill intensified the knot increasing exponentially in my stomach. Putting down a pet sucks. Plain and simple, and I miss her a lot, but the process I took to get into the head space of being OK with letting her go provided insight into my patterns of letting go on a grander scale.
I’m always trying to detach. I do this with every relationship in my life especially if I know an end is imminent, permanent or not. Detaching is a coping mechanism, a way of putting distance between me and any pain associated with a relationship that I fear is ending. If I’ve resumed my predictable routine, gone on with my life already, then it won’t affect me as much.
I tried to detach from my dad. It seemed easy at first because I didn’t see him or speak with him consistently. I could compartmentalize his deterioration because I wasn’t witnessing it firsthand, and I rationalized that we didn’t have a traditional relationship. That quickly vanished as my excuses were drowned out by the inevitability that my dad, this man who knew me since birth would not be present in my life much longer. Devastating. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t detach, and the reality of his passing came crashing in and swallowed me whole.
As the grief worked its way out over my internal protest, it broke me. I could not distance myself. The carefully structured routines and safe guards crumbled and were replaced with uncontrollable and exquisite pain. Grief affixed itself to me, becoming an unwanted roommate for months and I was forced to confront the uncomfortable emotions it produced, un-detached and completely conjoined. As a result, I am able to receive death and grief differently, and I’m not so terrified to face it or the emotions of loss that accompany it. Detaching is still my trigger reaction, but I recognize it and see it for what it is…coping…striving to survive unbearable heartache.