An Unexpected Wave of Grief
I am exhausted from trying to keep everyone alive… This is what I wrote in my journal a month into 2022. I had a few unexpected situations come up, problems that were complicated and alarming, and I found I had reached the end of myself. I had been doing “all the things” a pandemic entails, along with trying to balance work, home life, and self-care practices. To be honest, I thought I was doing a fair, if not a good job at it until the exhaustion crept in, and I lost my footing.
Exhaustion from “doing all the things” weakened my reserves, and the weight of being diligent to safeguard my family, my community, and how I expand into the wider world, made me tender to the touch. I am not a health care worker or a first responder, nor did I have any personal tragic losses during the pandemic. And yet, I felt myself being pulled under by other events that were showing up in my life. During this time, it was challenging to rally. A wave of grief was pulling me under, sweeping me out to sea and I was treading water among the white caps.
Grief is an emotion woven into our experiences and often is bypassed by our busy nature. We have been conditioned to not feel sad, to stifle it, numb it and move on with the business of the day. When I was younger, I thought grief was something you only felt when someone you loved died. Grief wasn’t something you felt or spoke about when you were disappointed or had a personal loss of less magnitude. Grief was boxed into a coffin and remained there well before I was fully healed from deep loss. Even when navigating devastating losses, the loss of a parent or a dear friend, there was a time limit. You get three days, or a week if you’re lucky. A few months after my father died, I found myself walking through my grocery store. I felt distant from others as I watched mothers with small children and grandfathers shop for dry goods. As I made my way to the check-out, I passed several people and thought, “Do they know how deeply devastated I am right now?” a well of sadness washed over me, as I witnessed life turning without him.
But grief doesn’t play by these constructs or imposed timelines. It lingers within dark corners, tugs at our sleeves, and sometimes, pulls us under. Particularly when it is ignored. Grief doesn’t go away on its own, instead, it collects. Unattended grief gathers until it reaches a breaking point, and we become cracked open. Grief isn’t callous or unkind, it is a response to living on this planet. It’s an emotion, just like any other, waiting to move through us. It won’t stay unless asked. Grief helps us let go and it makes space for healing to come in. The emotion of sadness and loss are contrasts to joy and satisfaction. These emotions enhance our experiences, they enable us to tap into our empathetic hearts and find inner resilience.
When we grieve, we greet ourselves where we are, and surrender. It’s not giving up, it is letting ourselves be, to move through the feelings of loss, of expectations falling short, or fears we haven’t spoken of. We allow for the breakage, the pieces to fall away, and we let it be as it is. We surrender to tenderness and allow the tears to cleanse our brave and bruised hearts.
We can choose to honor our humanity by sitting gently in the shadows of discomfort letting it rise and fall without judgment. Grief takes, but it also transforms, inviting us to see ourselves and the world with new eyes.
Calm waters always return after the storm. Trust in the ability to be fluid within pockets of grief and let yourself be carried through the ripples of uncertainty. The sun will emerge upon
the horizon and bathe the earth’s surface with light, just as joy will resurface within the creases of your heart, bringing fullness and wonder back to you once again.
Nicole Hendrick Donovan is an author, reflective storyteller, and speaker who offers personal essays, memoirs, and workshops as a container for others to seek their inner wisdom and truth. Her memoir, A Life Suspended: A Mother and Son’s Story of Autism, Extinction Bursts, and Living a Resilient Life, brings the reader into the home and heart of a family in crisis. Donovan’s vulnerable storytelling cultivates compassion and understanding, opening a door where acceptance and empathy expand. Nicole is a contributing writer to The Mighty, Autism Parenting Magazine, Finding Cooper’s Voice, and Herself360. As an extension of her offerings, she is the owner of Rose Ray Healing Arts and curator of her signature Rose Ray Surrender Spray. You can connect with Nicole on Facebook and Instagram @nhdwrites, as well as nhdwrites.com