Five years ago May 1st, I lost my sister to domestic violence. It was a sudden, earth-shattering pain that erupted in my gut and flooded my body. I was shocked as I attempted to remember to inhale. As the breath returned to my lungs, my voice forgot its place, and all that came from me was a suffocated shriek. Thankfully, my father knew to tell me to pull the car over before he delivered the news because I was unsure of where I was or how I would get home. In that moment, I remembered that just a few hours before, I’d decided that home was the perfect place to return my sister’s phone call. I’ll do it when I get home, but now I couldn’t go home and make myself a liar. Who would pick up the phone?
Grief is such an intricate emotion. “The cycle of grief,” as it is often described, can be confusing for the griever. It’s not a cycle, with a specific rotation of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is a connect-the-dot worksheet from grade school, the one that you weren’t quite sure of the big picture. All you were sure of is that dot four was a surprising turn from dot three, and the lines did not quite match up. Grief is like that for you, yet the proverbial “they” say you never forget; yet sometimes, you do. You do. And then, you feel those disorganized out of order emotions all over again.
You forget when you want to call that number. You forget when you want to hang out or see that person. You forget when for a brief moment, you can breathe again. That moment when you’re happy for no reason at all, and you feel that you don’t deserve it. For some reason, you’re convinced that any moment of relief or joy somehow undermines the meaningful relationship with that loved one. Still, in your heart of hearts, you remind yourself that they would want you to laugh again. They would want you to live. But the true question is, how? How do you live knowing that someone you love(d) so deeply is not?
Often times, therapy is suggested for the griever, but for me, the therapist and the griever, I’ll admit that this process is too frequently pathologized. Instead, I invite the grieving to make room for your pain. Make room because burying your emotions does not put them to rest. Is it not to be expected that you feel something? That you feel nothing? That you feel everything? Grief looks different for every person. I hope that you find someone, be it a friend, loved one, or clinician that allows you to look at your unique process and learn to coexist with that hollow space- that space that reminds you that you’re human and to give flowers to the living while you can.
Authored by Anisha Cooper, LPC, CCTP, NCC