How long is grief?
Is it measured in hours, the time that refuses to pass? Is it calculated in days that stretch, in distance you cannot cross no matter how far you walk? Is it swept away if enough tears are shed, enough guilt assumed?
The truth is, it’s subjective. Grief is different not only for every person who experiences it, but every time they experience it. Circumstances change and challenge the depth and duration of one’s grief. Some losses are easily shrugged away. Others not so much. Still others hang on years, sometimes decades, after the thing that was lost has gone to ashes and dust.
I have buried children, nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and pets. Each loss was unique. Each has impacted me in its own particular way. Some I came to terms with easily or years ago. For the most part, they no longer bother me (although now and then I discover a sharp corner to a memory that cuts me anew). Some losses took weeks/months/years to get under control. Those are the ones that still surprise me every so often. I’ll be going along minding my own business and suddenly the grief pops up out of nowhere, often triggered by something of which I’m unaware. When that hits, the ground goes shaky underfoot for a while.
And there are the few that won’t let go.
I sometimes think that guilt (that useless emotion!) has a lot to do with the grief we can’t release (or that won’t let go of us). The depth of our guilt (things said/unsaid, done or undone) weighs heavily on the side of the grief we carry. And so often the guilt is over such useless, well, shit. It’s colored by our inability to accept anything less than perfection from ourselves. “I should have done (or not done) this or that.” “If only I’d…” “I wish I hadn’t…”
Why do we beat ourselves up? (That’s a rhetorical question; I haven’t a clue.)
Dear friends of mine lost their 15 1/2-year-old Lab yesterday. Eight months ago, as many of you know, I lost my 12-year-old Aussie, my dear old man Tucker. All I’ve done since Pudge died yesterday is cry for Tucker. I miss him. I want him back. I grieve for the ways in which I perceive that I let him down and wish I could turn back the clock and make amends.
I know I gave Tuck a good life. Maybe not always the best life. Maybe I wasn’t always as patient as I could have been, or as attentive to his needs. Give me enough time and I’ll come up with a thousand ways in which I let him down. But I loved him. I did love him…and I miss him…and I want so badly for this grief to pass.
That’s the prayer I say for those friends of mine with their brand new loss, to anyone who has suffered a loss. Feel your pain. Ride it out. Cry as much and as often as you need to (no matter what anyone else thinks or feels). Let those tears wash away any memory that causes pain and hold on fast to those that bring you joy. They’re the only ones worth holding onto, anyway.