Six months after Maya died, I was at a business meeting where a colleague shared her devastation over the death of her dog. All I could think was, “You can replace a dog but I can never replace Maya.” I ran from the room and barely made it back to my desk before I broke into sobs.
I had lost my firstborn child and my best friend. Life seemed random and meaningless. Despite years of spiritual and psychological work, I discovered that no spiritual philosophy or psychological insight was stronger than my grief.
I fruitlessly sought answers to the “why, why, why” mantra in my head, always coming up empty handed. A colleague gave me a button that said, “Clinical studies show there are no answers.”
Gradually, I began to accept that I would never be able to answer the question of why Maya died. As I worked on Swimming with Maya, and as I learned to grieve, I gave up asking the impossible
I learned that what and how are much better questions. What can I do now that the unthinkable has happened? How can I become whole again?
One of the books that helped me the most was Judy Tatelbaum’s The Courage to Grieve. It is a deceptively simple but profound explanation of the emotional and spiritual courage we need to grieve our losses fully. It taught me that what I was feeling was a normal, natural process. If I trusted my emotions, and let them happen, I would ultimately get through it.
As my recovery gained ground, I began to see beyond my ego-driven need that life always be “fair” or that nothing bad ever happen to my loved ones. It grew easier for me to accept all the ways, big and small, that life does not shape itself to my desires, or support my illusions of control. I recount this transformation in Swimming with Maya.
Even the worst grief can be transformed with humor and compassion. But it takes work. And time. Often, because we aren’t encouraged to face the hard realities of death and grief, we greatly underestimate how much time.
I wince every time I hear someone say, “It’s been a year. She should be over it by now.” Or “He just needs to stay busy,” of someone whose loss is only a few months old. Any kind of loss requires radical life restructuring. The death of a child shatters a parent’s future and upends the entire family. Expecting someone to “get over it” is folly.
Taking time to grieve helps put us in touch with the love that underlies grief. If we didn’t love deeply, we wouldn’t grieve. You wouldn’t want to “get over” your love would you? So why rush your grief?
For me, it’s coming up on 21 years, and I can honestly say that grieving, and healing, transformed my life.
Grief is the ultimate invitation to grow up emotionally and spiritually. It may seem like a hard road, but it is well worth walking. If you look for them, you’ll find good companions for the journey. I hope Swimming with Maya is one of them.