I thought I would survive my divorce by being in charge of it, by lacing up my hiking boots and getting on with it. I was going to climb up to the most difficult peak with determination and will-the way I’d approached everything in my life-and then gently walk down the other side, feeling better and stronger with every step as I left my fear and grief behind me. I assumed I would heal on a predictable arc, a familiar little curve, down, down, down.That was my plan, anyway; but it’s not at all what happened.Grief doesn’t simply fade slowly over time. It has the rhythms and unpredictability of weather.
After weeks of feeling good and feeling strong, feeling like I was getting back on my feet, I would suddenly have a sad day. There are many triggers that could send me back into the waters of grief and regret: an old song on the radio from when my ex and I were young together; the solitude of mother’s day; couples walking down the street, nuzzling each other.
At first these twinges of regret made me panic: I am never going to be free, I thought. I am never going to get to the other side. But slowly I realized grief wasn’t a sensation to get past, because grief isn’t totally about failure and loss: It’s also about what remains, evidence that those years you lived with that other person mattered. Grief is how all of us honor the risks we’ve taken, the love we’ve shared, the rewards of the vulnerability and the growth. Grief is your companion, the ghost that remains behind when the partner is gone.
When I stopped trying to clamber over grief and put it behind me, I discovered its comfort: that sometimes the waters of grief would carry me in their embrace if I gave over to it, that I didn’t have to be afraid about feeling sad, that not resisting what I was feeling was a very powerful form of weakness. Grief taught me that I didn’t have to fight my way through life all the time, and helped me find the quiet place inside me where I trust that I will be fine. After you are through the first stages of heartbreak, you’ll learn to welcome grief, whenever it comes. Treat the grief like prayer, and take ta moment to bow your head and say “I’ve lived.”