Good Grief: The Art of Feeling

June 3, 2019

It happened while I was sitting in a movie theater. It started with a slight tinge in the middle of my chest. I knew immediately what it was.  I shoved my hands into the kangaroo pocket of my hoodie and clasped them together, bracing myself. Squeezing both hands, I struggled to divert my focus.

Not here.  Not here.

My eyes began to mist, and my lips seemed to purse in response.  My breaths became short and quick, my chest laboriously heaving in response to the growing demands of my lungs.

Oh please, not here. Not now.

Then, the tinge advanced to a thick and suffocating pressure in the middle of my chest. It began to spider across my chest, down my arms and through my fingertips. Clasping my hands even tighter, I struggled to maintain my composure.  My lips quivered; my eyes fluttered under the weight of the unreleased tears.

Focus, Lynnette.  Focus on anything.  The movie. The smell of popcorn in the air.  Anything.

But, it was too late.  It was here, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I read a quote once that said:

“That’s the thing about grief, it demands to be felt.”

I would add that it also dictates when it will be felt, as well.  It seems to kinda sneak up on ya at the most inopportune or mundane times.  Washing the dishes.  Reading a book. Watching a movie.  I knew this moment was coming.  I’d had some recent trauma I neatly compartmentalized until I was in a safe place to deal with it.

I guess grief felt it was safe enough for her to have her say.

I made it out of the movie without letting on that DEFCON 1 was occurring inside.  On the way out, I could tell my knees were getting weak, and I misstepped a few times.  I covered by saying, “My knee hurts a little”.

I knew I wouldn’t make it to the car without letting grief have a word or two with me, so I detoured to the bathroom.  Oddly enough, it was nearly empty; however, I have mastered the art of the silent sob.  I sat on the commode, knees pressed together, feet splayed apart, and cried.  Hugging my purse for comfort, I buried my face and sobbed…silently.

It was only a few minutes, but it was enough to keep her at bay until I got home (I hoped).

The car ride home was tough.  Twenty minutes is a short time to drive, but a long time to keep your hand over grief’s mouth.  I tried to focus on anything.  The sound of the cars going past. The smell of rain on the warm night air.  The mist forming on the windows.  

Finally, I hit the driveway and parked, but my legs wouldn’t let me out the car. They felt heavy as lead.  I sat with one leg in and one leg out, staring up at the stars.  It was a pretty night.  The pressure was back.  The dam was going to burst.  

With one last push, I managed to walk into the house and was even able to politely excuse myself to bed, blaming my demeanor on fatigue.  Once the door was shut and I was alone, I collapsed to my hands and knees. I began to rock back and forth, crying and wailing with guttural moans and sobs, birthing my pain.

A raging hurricane of tears and pain engulfed me, and I was at grief’s mercy.  It was a terrible pain indeed.  An unrelenting hurt in places in the soul that refuse to be soothed.  My only option was to let it happen

When grief had her say, she left much in the same way she came.  The vice grip on my chest gradually released.  The tears dried and my legs began to work again.  

I staggered into the kitchen to make myself some tea and was glad to find the kitchen empty.  She visited a few more times that night before I was able to get to sleep, albeit with less and less fury.  

Maybe the tea helped.

But, to tell you the truth, I’m glad grief decided to visit me.  I needed to let it out.  I’d been holding it in for a long time.  I didn’t want to feel it.  I wanted to ignore it, put it in a box and lock it away.  Grief was having none of that today, and I am grateful for that.

Why did I conceal it?

It was not that I was ashamed.  Grief is uncomfortable for people, especially people who love you.  They want to hug and hold you, shush your moans. I mean, I’ve done that to my own loved ones. But, the more grief I experience, the more I realize that it is important to just feel it. Experience it. To sit in discomfort and pain, and let it wash through you.

The more I avoid grief, the more it manifests itself in other ways.  I engage in more mind numbing activities like overworking, Candy Crush (I’m on level 1828) or social media.  I become inefficient at work, taking longer to do simple, easy tasks. I can even get physically sick, my immune system struggling to keep up under the duress of stress.

The act of expressing unstifled grief is immeasurably healing.  

I remember a long time ago, on Oprah, there was a grandmother who accidentally killed her own grandchild when she backed over him/her with the car.  She said she struggled to forgive herself and was stuck in a pit of anger and pain.  

Oprah asked her how she was able to get through it, and she said, “Screaming”.  She described how she would lie on the floor and begin to cry and yell, and that it eventually descended into guttural groans.  I remember how she said the unrestricted grieving allowed her to actual feel and experience her pain, instead of running from it. She still cried, and it still hurt, but the ability to express grief was a healing balm for her soul.

Cry.  Yell.  Scream.  Do the ugly cry.

Do whatever you need to do to grieve.  Don’t run from it.  Let it come.  It won’t be easy, but push through it.  Let it become a healing balm in all your painful places.

Note: Today’s blog was about grief.  Depression can occur alongside or independent of grief.  I fully support and strongly advocate the use of mental health professionals for guidance and support.  In other words, everybody needs to have a good counselor on deck.  

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