There are no rules in grief. It’s something I’ve read and have even written myself at least one hundred times. And yet, I am only now realizing that for the past nineteen months, I’ve believed differently.
In my life, there was a period in which my broken heart simply needed space to bleed, fiercely, freely, without stopping, without constraints or rules or any outside pressures. My short list of things that I was— labels— played like a constant reel in my head— the girl whose son died, the girl who left a toxic marriage, the girl who was now quiet, withdrawn, maybe a little morbid and cynical, etc. Everywhere I went, I carried those labels, and subconsciously (and sometimes not), every label came with it’s own code of how I was supposed to behave.
There were no rules I had to follow, I told myself. And yet in hindsight, following the unwritten rules for my behavior seemed to be all that I did.
For example, my son died. I could not possibly be happy. I could not be silent. I could not stop grieving, because grief never ends. I could not sit quietly about his existence nor his absence. I could not forget.
And most of those? Most of those are true. Grief will never end. I should never stop speaking of him, never stop saying his name, never sit quietly when I want to use my voice. I should never allow societal constraints to infringe upon the deep love I still hold in my heart for my child I can no longer hold.
Part of me was wrong. Because part of me folded to a pressure I didn’t even realize existed. Part of me wanted to be more than my grief, but talking about grief was all I felt I could do— all I felt I was supposed to do. I loved my son fiercely, and I still do. I always will, and part of me thought that if I stopped talking about him as much, if I stopped mourning as deeply, I would somehow be forgetting him. I would somehow be “moving on”, when even those words sounded like the most repulsive things to my ears (and they still do). I thought that if there came a day when I was happy— genuinely, truly happy— then I was forgetting him. And I thought that if there came a day when I talked about more than just him— then I would no longer be honoring him.
It’s taken me nineteen months to go through this process, to formulate the words and to put them into understandable form.
I will always miss my son. I will always ache for him. I will always talk about him. But in no way is it a dishonor to him for me to live, to laugh, to be happy (truly happy), to be free and courageous and to throw caution to the wind— taking my broken heart and daring it to love even in the face of fear.
To be completely honest, these are frightening words to say.
They’re frightening, because there is this idea that in order to properly grieve, you have to stay in the deep, murky waters. That in order to properly ache, you have to curse every holiday (which it’s fine if you do), and for them to be the first thought in your mind at all times, whether waking or sleeping… I felt guilty the first day that my son wasn’t my first thought. That maybe I was wrong or a bad mom or not doing grief the right way.
I let these ideas enter into my mind, and I let them constrain me, shame me, make me feel like I was doing something wrong if I didn’t follow this prescribed method.
I needed to tell myself this: It’s okay to love him by embracing life. It’s okay if over time, the love we share looks less like heartache and more like freedom. And I also needed to tell myself this: there is no shame in that.
There is no shame in any of it, and there is no need to place shame or guilt on someone for not following a prescribed method of living— not mine and not the next person’s.
Our job is not to infringe our methods on one another. Our job is to love fiercely, to extend a hand, to support. None of us will make it out of this life alive, but we can make sure no heart makes it out unloved.
So what is our job? It’s to toss the rule books. To set aside our differences, to take the hand of one another, and to love with every last ounce of strength within us. To sit together, in the silence, in the noise, and to give every heart the freedom and space and time not to be constrained to a box but to live— to love— to grieve— to be set free.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a journey I’m only just beginning, and maybe in a way, we all are. Maybe we’ll never become so accustomed to this life that grief becomes predictable and the norm. From here on out, I know that whatever steps I take, whatever way I live my life, it’s going to be lived with freedom, without constraints, without pressures and methods.
After all, it’s okay to love him by embracing love, and it’s okay for that love to manifest itself in my heart with a lifelong pain but also with freedom.
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