Some days I wake up and grief hits me like an eight wheeler on a quiet morning. Just like that, without warning, I feel something inside me open up and this paralyzing sense of loss all feels fresh again. Tears roll down my face and, already, I feel nostalgia for the moment I’m living, as I know that that’s all it is—another fleeting moment that will soon pass and hide away in me again. It’s a strange thing, to want to feel that much, to ache to hold on to this overpowering feeling of sorrow…but so often, when you desperately want to feel it, it’s nowhere to be found.
Our minds have this astounding way of compartmentalizing the things that make us feel. In order to protect us and enable us to keep going through the motions, our minds fast forward through painful feelings as quickly as possible and use logic to tell us that feeling too much is an impractical impediment to being a high functioning, successful member of society. When faced with a stimulus, our brains are programmed to jump to response as fast as we can. Our culture and westernized definitions of success don’t hold space for what is seemingly illogical, such as pausing to sink your teeth into a feeling related to something that cannot be changed. The thing about losing someone, though, is that the more time goes by, the more you long to be overtaken by emotion. Why? Because, over time, you start to forget. You begin to question how well you remember the way a person’s voice sounded, the way they moved or how they made you feel. After a while, we only have the capacity to remember those beautiful, heartbreaking things in fleeting moments. Our memories become fuzzy, our cells regenerate, we change and try to stitch our pieces back together, and eventually, we begin to wonder if it was all a dream—their existence, their death, everything in between. It is merely in those flashes of intense grief and emotion that we are able to remember with clarity just how real it was, and how deeply that love and trauma is ingrained in us. Feeling this is what heals us, it's what allows us to understand and know ourselves more wholly. It teaches us that this love we felt and lost isn’t a thing of the past, it’s a part of our DNA. It will be woven into everything we do for the rest of our lives. The study of epigenetics is proving just how real this is—how we truly are transformed by the trauma we carry.
I laid in bed last night thinking about the word “tenderness,” a word defined by Merriam-Webster as “marked by, responding to, or expressing the softer emotions”. Loss has made me tender. It has opened me like a soft flower after a harsh winter. I feel empathy more deeply, I feel joy with more intensity—an intensity that almost always seems to be tinged with a hint of profound sadness. I’m growing to understand that joy and life are gifts that are unfairly and randomly distributed. So often these days, I find myself asking “what did I do to deserve these gifts?” to which I answer repeatedly, “nothing”. I am privileged, I am lucky, I just so happen to be alive. There is one thing that I have done, though, and that is investing in exploring and accepting who I am. Through therapy, writing, and friendship, I have been learning how to be vulnerable—not only with others, but with myself. I’ve been stepping back and looking at my thoughts and actions, observing them and picking them apart, seeking to understand which are and which are not aligned with my true self. I’ve had panic attacks, anxiety, and days of feeling overwhelmed by even the smallest things, but all in the name of working towards understanding who I am and what my truth is. Another definition of “tenderness” that I came across is “not able to endure hardship”. I wholeheartedly reject this definition. Becoming more tender and leaning into my feelings, fears, and trauma is making me more resilient, not the opposite—I’m sure of it. It’s not allowing me to jump from stimulus to response more efficiently—the quick fix I believe most of us think we need—but instead, it is allowing me to learn how to really process and heal, how to feel and let myself be changed, how to find meaning in hardship and love and joy in a world that can have the propensity to be cruel and indiscriminate.
What I'm learning in my healing journey is that coming to know our emotions and letting ourselves experience them is a gateway to growth and getting unstuck in every aspect of our lives, not just in hardship related to loss. As a self-proclaimed romantic and idealist, I believe magic is out there. The fact that nature exists, that we can experience unconditional love, joy, empathy, and laughter, that we get to live serendipitous moments and have outer body experiences, that we can be hopeful and connect deeply with others if we choose to…it all makes me feel this is a life worth living and worth working at embracing more fully. In order to take it all in and be true to yourself, though, you cannot bypass sitting with, digesting, and bringing your feelings into the light. The hard conversations with others and with yourself, the tears and the kicking and screaming…they’re inextricable parts of the process of getting to the other side. The thing is though, I'm learning that there is no shame in doing the work. There is no shame in tenderness, in struggle, in fear, in despair. We delight in watching the flowers bloom in spring, despite how vulnerable their petals are to the harsh world around them. I believe we are worthy of extending the same kind of awe and support to ourselves and to the people around us. To allow yourself to feel in order to heal is far from easy, but the freedom, magic, and sense of belonging that come along with the suffering are what make being alive on this planet so worthwhile.
I hope you will make space for yourself to notice what you’ve put away without exploring and trust that you can handle the pain in the process if it means you have a real chance at being free. You deserve it, and you do not have to do it alone.
With never ending love, gratitude, and encouragement,