After my dad’s passing in August of ’09, I’d say that for the most part, I’m OK.
I go about my day just fine. Create a to-do list. Happily check items off. Take breaks. Go work out. Run errands. Hang with loved ones. And live life.
But sometimes the grief breaks through.
And I have to tell myself to save it because I can’t fall apart right now. I have things to do.
We’ve talked before on Weightless about the importance of feeling our feelings. That we emerge liberated, relieved and unstuck. Unburdened. The overwhelming release from your brain and body.
Because gripping on to those feelings can lead to unhealthy consequences, such as emotional eating or even a negative body image. We focus so much on shooing away our feelings that they arise in other ways. Maybe we nitpick at our bodies. Or we feel bloated, gross or unloveable.
But it’s really the tension of the bottled-up feelings, the unexpressed emotions. The body bashing and eating just facades.
We think that not feeling our feelings keeps us unscathed. It keeps the “ugliness” from coming up and doing further damage.
I can’t worry about my dad’s death because I have things to do, I say to myself. I have to interview experts, I have to write up articles, I have to get inspired, I have to catch up on email.
I’m sorry, papa, but I can’t think about your loss right now.
I have things to do. And I can’t fall apart right now. Not even a glimmer, not even a chard of glass can fall from my fortress. Because, then, well, then, the whole thing I’ve built up so diligently, so perfectly, will shatter.
Maya Stein, whose poems I absolutely love, recently wrote about the beauty of grief. To say that her poem is powerful is an understatement. (All her pieces are breathtaking.)
I wanted to share it with you because it illuminates the importance of feeling our feelings. It shows us that we can still be strong when releasing the pain. We can find strength in something so vulnerable.
Sure, this might be something we know. At least, intellectually.
But I know that I, at least, need the reminder from time to time.
(Please check out the entire poem here; I’ve left out a chunk of the first section.)
No one knows she cried her eyes out three days ago,
sat in her desk chair and wept, unable to see the screen.
No one knows how harshly she spoke to herself, flagellated
her already fragile spirit, lay on her bed with her forearms
pinching her eyelids flat, and made mad proclamations
against her weak, fractured heart. No one knows the hours
she’s devoted to circling her sadness like a vulture,
the mileage she’s worn into her soles, walking the hills of her city
in a series of unsuccessful attempts at forgetting.
She had convinced herself of her own ruin,
a fault line splitting her body in two.
Her lungs felt as thin as moth wings,
and she was certain her bones had been worn brittle,
stilts of a house helpless against a hurricane.
But this is the beauty of grief.
What she saw in the mirror was not
the deep ravine left by loss,
The war she was waging
had not hollowed her cheeks or made an anarchy
of her skin. Her lips had not unpinked from slaughter.
Instead, a pliancy and sheen had birthed from the rubble.
The eyes looking back at her were bright as promises
and it wasn’t the overhead light or the sudden April sun.
Grief had lifted the rawness out of her,
clutched at the throat of her darkness and pulled
until it lay silent and sleeping at her feet,
a feral dog fed and full,
and what was left was neither muscle nor wound
but horizon line, a ripe nothingness
some fresh story beginning,
etching her face clean.
I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with my dad’s passing. (Do people ever come to terms?)
The grief comes and goes.
Sometimes, it’s raw, just like it happened yesterday.
Sometimes, in the middle of doing something, I realize to my horror that my dad is gone.
Sometimes, I realize the horror of how accustomed to life I’ve gotten without my dad. That he could just be plucked from this earth, and I’ve managed to pick up the pieces.
How scary is that?
That someone so pivotal in my life, such a shining light, is gone, has dimmed – and I haven’t suffered a nervous breakdown. I haven’t fallen to the floor and stayed there, crying for days.
Part of it is my personality. I’ve always been introverted with my feelings. Kept quiet whether I was angry, frustrated, depressed or distraught.
Part of it is worry about the aftermath. I assume that this grief, this heavy, heavy grief, will ruin me. Lungs like moth wings, bones so brittle and a shaky foundation, bending to the weakest of winds.
Because let’s be honest, feeling your feelings is hard work. It’s hard to dig through the rubble, forest, flood and fire of feelings.
But it’s OK if it takes time. It’s OK if you’re not ready.
What I pay attention to are my thoughts and behaviors. Am I letting these feelings spark unhealthy behaviors? Am I eating to soothe my pain? Am I beating myself up as a result of bottling up these feelings? Am I doing something that doesn’t honor me? I ask myself these questions. And the answer has been no.
And for now, I’m OK with stopping there.
For now, that’s good enough.
For now, this is my fresh beginning and my cleansed face.
What helps you process your feelings? Do you think bottled up feelings can lead to unhealthy behaviors?
P.S., Golda at Body Love Wellness has an excellent post on feeling your feelings.