Who put a stopwatch on grief? Who are the powers that be? Who said, “Time’s up. Time to move on,” and left those living in loss to live in secret?

Benjamin Who made the rulesLoss goes underground when we don’t play by the rules. No one actually says there is a right and wrong way to grieve. The rules are as unspoken as the sorrow itself. There is an “understanding” that people place on another’s sorrow. The bystanders subliminally suggest it’s time to move on. They’ve grown weary of our sadness, our pain, our stories and our sorrow.

The ones on the fringes of loss have moved on while those in the trenches of tragedy move into their silent sorrow. I cried on the inside under florescent lights and wept out in the open by candlelight. When a wave of sorrow submerged me in public, I would step away, separate, go to a bathroom stall, go outside, go anywhere because the workplace is a place for work. Feel your loss on your own time.

And time. What of time? How much time does someone have to grieve?

I read about a culture where the widow wore only black for the first year after her husband died. Somewhere this particular society made the rule that she was to grieve for a year. After a year she was done wearing black.

When is it appropriate to date after a spouse dies? Think about it. What do people in this society think if someone begins to date before that unspoken obligatory year has passed?

What if a parent still cries putting up the Christmas lights ten years after the last Christmas they held their child? Does that mean he or she is doing something wrong?

There are no rules in living with loss. You don’t have to live in secret sorrow. No one needs to hide their tears or hurt alone. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate.

Some of the most tragic statements I’ve heard from others deep in sorrow are, “I should be over this by now. I feel stuck. I feel like it’s two steps forward and one step back.”

There is no such thing as two steps forwards, one step back. Over what? Stuck where? These are someone else’s rules. Someone else is holding the stopwatch saying “times up.” Someone else says that’s enough.

Loss is loss. It takes what it takes and it gives what it gives. Loss belongs to the one that is living in loss. It is as intimate and fluid as the relationship one mourns. It takes me, overwhelms me, comforts me, confines me, expands me, hurts me, and if I let it be whatever it needs to be, heals me.

I do not heal by another’s rules or expectations. I heal by following the traces left of a broken heart. Every heart is as different as the snowflakes falling outside my window. Just as these frozen droplets make their way onto the earth’s floor I, too, have my own trajectory and place I land in my loss.

Loss is a part of life just as much as it is a part of death. I am still alive. I feel and I am so grateful I feel deeply. I do not confine or restrict my sorrow, but I am well aware of the society’s rules. I just have no need to play by those rules.

After my family had died and I would meet someone who didn’t know, I would sometimes get the question, “Do you have any children?” At first I would say, “Yes, I have two, but they have died.” I will always have two children. As I grow old, they grow with me. One child would be 31, the other 29. I think of them daily. I don’t care how many days I walk this planet, I have two children, but they have died.

However, there came a time when someone would ask if I had any children and I began to say “No.” I just didn’t want to get into it. I didn’t want to have that awkward moment or have to tell the story.

Initially, I felt it was a betrayal, a denial of these precious beings that touched me so deeply and in the depths I hold daily. It hurt to hold them in such a way. It hurt to say “yes, but” and it hurt to say “no”.

There is no right or wrong. I do not need to tell everyone that asks if I have children my life story. It is not a denial of their existence. For me, it is an honoring of the sacred space my children and I share. It is our space and only those that have the capacity to enter such as space are invited into the realm of my missing what I had and the gratefulness of what I still have.

There are no rules on to how to live through the depths of sorrow. There is no stopwatch on grief. Point A doesn’t go to Point B in the world of the Afterloss. There are no two steps forward and one step back. The heart beats in its own rhythm. All that matters is that the heart beats. Even when it is broken, the heart beats in its own time with its own sorrow.


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