“Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.”
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Hyperion
When I was in middle school, I had the hardest time waking up in the morning. My mom would call me maybe 7 times before she would come into my room and pull my blanket off of me and turn on the light.
Almost immediately, my body would go into shivers. The thing that kept me warm and covered was taken, and I wasn’t ready for it.
My eyes would squint- I couldn’t see clearly and nothing made sense. I didn’t know what day or time it was. It took me a minute to adjust, and when I did, I was disappointed to learn that it was morning and I had to get up and go to school.
For me, this happened almost daily. And every day, it felt as startling, as cold, and as disorienting. And every day, when the reality hit that I had to get up and go to school, that I couldn’t be in my bed, the thing that brought me so much comfort and warmth, I felt disappointed.
But then Saturday came, and I could sleep in. Glorious, beautiful sleeping in. No blinding lights. No coldness. Yeah, Monday came again, followed by hundreds of more Mondays, but for that day, I could relax. My body could find comfort again.
When I started thinking about writing about grief, this memory popped into my head. When I think about my middle-school-mornings, I think of grief. I think of the warmth and comfort of my bed unexpectedly and harshly being ripped away from me, and me, on that morning and every other morning, just having to deal with it. Saturdays gave me glimmers of hope, but for the most part, I would wake up every single morning feeling disoriented and cold.
That’s the best word I can think to describe it: Cold.
None of us are ready for grief. Even if we have prepared, even if we know it’s coming, we aren’t ready. We just aren’t programmed to be.
For a long time, I thought that dealing with grief- I mean really dealing with it- meant that I was weak or irresponsible. The idea that I couldn’t get over something quickly brought me shame. I would hear about these “thank u, next” sort of women and it made me wonder what was wrong with me that I couldn’t just move on.
I remember a very specific moment in my life where I was grieving the loss of someone very hard, and a friend who meant well asked me why I just wasn’t over it. They said that they were worried about me because I seemed “depressed.”
What I heard then was my friend saying, “You’re weak for still being sad.” What I hear now is, “I don’t understand why your grief looks different than mine.”
And that’s really the thing: whether we realize it or not, so many times we judge people for how they grieve. Or really, I should say, we judge people because they don’t grieve how we do.
Well, today is December 24, and you might be reading this because you are grieving. Today is not a Saturday for your emotions. It’s a Wednesday, and you feel smack-dab in the middle of a week that you’re just trying to make it thru. It’s Christmas, and everything reminds you of the person that you lost, the dream that fell thru, the pet that used to be with you, or, simply put, the way that life used to be.
To not grieve over Christmas feels impossible. It feels like it will never happen. And you know what…maybe it won’t ever happen. Maybe every single Christmas, you will get sad.
That’s okay. You’re not weak. You’re not too emotional. You’re not dramatic. You’re not cold or isolated. You are sad. Sadness makes people uncomfortable, and so you hide your grief in order to keep the holiday spirits high.
But part of me feels like that’s the wrong choice. Part of me feels like in order to really move on, to really move forward and start rebuilding or replanning or loving again, we need to let ourselves be sad. Absolutely and completely sad.
I want to do something that maybe nobody has ever done for you; I want to give you permission to grieve. Some of you might think, “I don’t need permission.” But really, you might.
You might need permission to take a second for yourself at a family gathering because being there while you’re still grieving makes you feel like you’re going to throw up.
You might need permission to opt out of that girls night out because when you went last year, you weren’t single.
You might need permission to not send holiday cards because this year has been so crappy, and you can’t muster the strength to bs your way thru it.
I give you permission to give yourself permission. Permission to listen to what your body is telling you and act accordingly. Permission to take a minute now so that you can move on. Permission to cry if you need to cry and not interrupt your tears with, “I’m so sorry I’m crying…I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
Your tears are not an interruption. Your grief is not an interruption.
Your grief is a result of you and your life being interrupted.
You have to give yourself time to grieve so that you can move onto other feelings. There’s not a fresh start in the history of fresh start’s that didn’t begin with something ending.
But now I want to give you permission for something else.
I want to give you permission to move on.
I want you to allow yourself to love again. To dream again. To sleep soundly again. I want you to go on that vacation that you always used to go on with them or put that ornament on the tree that reminds you of them.
Sometimes, we think to move on means to forget about the person or thing that you lost. But really, moving on simply means moving forward. It means that you have lived in the weekdays too long, constantly having the blankets ripped off you and your heart exposed to cold, bleak circumstances with every single thing that reminds you of what you lost.
Moving forward doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt, or you aren’t still sad, or you stop loving them. Moving forward means that there is a Saturday coming up, and you don’t want to miss it. There is rest coming up, there is peace over the next horizon, and you are ready for a dose.
It’s okay to be ready for peace and rest. Wanting those doesn’t mean you are forgetting- it means that you are remembering.
Remembering what love felt like, and loving again.
Remembering what fun felt like, and having fun again.
Remembering what adventure felt like, and adventuring again.
Remembering what peace felt like, and finding peace again.
Moving forward looks like you believing that you deserve good again. Believing that there is love for you again. Believing that there is life after this.
Because friend, there is. I promise you, there is. There is new life waiting to bloom. But that bloom cannot take place until you water yourself, right where you are at. Do not ignore the Monday’s of life, the moments of grief and pain, the feelings that you’re feeling. Do not cast them aside because you feel like a burden. Pay attention to them. Sit with them. Feel them so that you are free to feel other things.
Allow space for your secret sorrows to come to the surface, and then release them. Accept that healing doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt. Give yourself grace to have bad days. The way that you feel in your grief, right now, is so important.
But most of all, give yourself permission to feel. And then give yourself permission to heal.
Allow yourself to have hope.
Happy Holidays. I love you.