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On Grief

Grief is a trickster.

I thought I'd be fine when my father died. We had a difficult relationship and we new his death was coming. He had been battling cancer for several years. We all knew it would get him someday. I thought I had mended all the fences that needed mending, said all the good byes that needed saying, but I was surprised that grief was still a journey that I would take and that I would fall into griefís deep dark well from which only time could release me.

When my mother died, I cried for my desperate loss. She was my mother, my Priestess, my mentor, my friend. I still had so much to learn and it was forever lost at her leaving. And I was amazed how familiar my grief was. After the tears, after the anger, after the fear, I was absent-minded again, late for everything, disoriented about trivial things. Then just when I thought the worst was over...nightmares, bad nerves, sleeplessness, weight loss, heart palpitations. It was that same black well I had fallen into before and it didn't matter who pushed me, my dad's death or my mother's. Like love, there are not many kinds of grief. There is only one.

Then my best friend and foundling sister died after a 16 year relationship. Her death was sudden. Good for her, bad for me. She had no time for pain or fear or wonder at who would take care of all that she had left unfinished; raising her daughters, proms and weddings and births that she would never witness, the book we were going to write together, our trip to Ireland, growing old together living with a house full of cats.

Even though I was now familiar with my old friend grief...while I was taking care of every one else, two things were happening behind my back. First, event after event I began realizing, as I had never done before, the different roles my sister played in my life. She was my Permission Giver, Secret Sharer, Cheer Leader, #1 FAN, Press Agent, Promoter, both my Anchor and my Compass - and my only Unconditional Lover. Then, with no one to give me permission to be selfish or vent my anger, to be wicked or daring or successful or real or completely myself with no apologies, I simply began to fade away.

At one point, I knew to my greatest depths that I was absolutely and completely unnecessary to anyone. I was no longer the person I was before she died. I faded away and no one had missed me at all. I'd stopped writing, my goal of the past 15 years and no one noticed. I realized that she (after my mother) was the only one who could ever see me and when her eyes closed, I was gone.

It has been a twenty year battle to crawl out of her grave. I've struggled to be my own Anchor and Compass. Iíve force myself to be my own Promoter and Cheer Leader. And the hardest of all, Iíve learned to be my own Permission Giver (when after falling in love with someone considerably younger than me, I did the unthinkable and accepted his love). He tried to be all that she was and more, but he couldnít fill her shoes, any more than I could. I'm still not writing (or am I?) And I am struggling, even now, to exhume that part of me. I have embraced my pagan spirit without fear or apology. Iíve denied the pigeon holes that my gender, age or circumstance demands I embrace. And as part of the tribute that I pay to the memories of my blessed loved ones, I have made peace with the grief that I will never ďget overĒ - yet forbid it keeping me from smiling again.

For those who fear grief, hereís my advice. It wonít kill you, no matter how much you may wish it would. Facing one who may be dying is an enormously courageous task. You can support them. Death is not catching. Support them all that you can. It will be good for them and you. You will need to know after your loved one is gone, that you left no stone unturned to serve their needs. But surround yourself with people who understand that you set yourself aside every time you put the other person first, and that you will need to make up that time after you are no longer needed. And then, find someone who will hold you and tell you that your loved one forgives you when you discover all the stones that got past you.

Start watching out for yourself early on. Start with your body. Eat, sleep, take hot baths, and exercise if you can. Read, garden, play video games or watch films that take you away from yourself. Or anything you like to do that occupies your mind with thoughts of a kinder place and time. Then, forgive yourself if none of it works, and you get miserable, cranky, and depressed. You're allowed to get depressed. You're supposed to look like that when you lose a parent or your best friend. Most of all, donít be brave. If you have to for others, okay, but donít be brave to yourself. Grief will express itself one way or another. The obvious ways are the healthiest.

At the end, accept that you are not trying to cope with the loss. You are coping. Maybe not as well as you wish, but better than you were 3 months ago and 3 months before that, or even years before that. Because whether you like it or not, once grief is opened up to you, you never quite close the door on it. Those that are worthy of your love are worthy of your grief. It is up to you whether it makes you a weaker person or a deeper person.

© 2004 - 2010 Ardriana Cahill

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