A very dear friend, whom I consider to be one of the wisest and kindest in the world, said these words yesterday and I could not agree more with her. The other amazing thing is that she said this in front of a group of people living with Type 2 diabetes, during a program we are running for a research project. What does grief have to do with diabetes, you ask? Well I can’t tell you the details of what we discussed, but as a GP, I see the effects of grief frequently, and I don’t think we give it enough space. We are afraid of acknowledging it, often not even aware that it’s there. But it’s absolutely true that joy and connection are waiting on the other side.
Trigger warning : I am going to talk about stuff that makes people sad, and this may make you cry. That’s ok. Crying is a great way to release emotions, and I am not embarrassed to say I am crying right now.
Grief isn’t just about losing someone you care about when they die, although this is a common form of grief and often the most painful. You might be grieving the loss of many things – your health, your youth, your children’s youth, the fact that you can’t have children. You might grieve a function that you used to have but no longer have. The first thing about grief is that it’s final and you can’t do anything to bring that person, experience, or thing back. The second thing about grief is that you grieve because you care.
I’ve been grieving over the past few years. My grief is intense, and also intensely personal and private, and not something I can share beyond a few close friends (and my Lovely Psychologist). (Grief is even harder when you can’t speak about it openly, I find). And yet, despite this, despite waking up each day knowing that the world has changed forever, I have managed to experience joy. I have actively sought joy because I have to believe that the world goes on and life is good. I have watched movies that made me laugh so hard I thought I would be incontinent. I have had wonderful family holidays, and made lots of memories. I have kissed my sleeping children goodnight every single night, and breathed in that wonderful sweet warm sleeping children smell, and felt that amazing gooey melty feeling you get whenever you touch a cheek that is still round, still innocent, still full of wonder and curiosity and unbridled enthusiasm. I’ve savoured being in bed each night, tired muscles, tired brain, tired head on pillow, just feeling so good because I’m finally lying down. I’ve enjoyed food, wine, sunshine, the beach, the forest, ice cream, hugs, and cat videos.
Grief makes you realise nothing can be taken for granted. Your world could collapse (or feel like it’s collapsing) with one phone call. Grief hurts a lot, but there is no painkiller that doctors can provide. We are absolutely powerless in the face of intense loss. Grief invites you to do nothing else apart from to sit with that pain and ride it out. Initially you might feel very very alone, but if you allow yourself to do so, people will help you. Maybe it’s a stranger, maybe it’s a colleague you barely know, or it could be your best friend or someone you know well. Maybe it’s just a dogwagging its tail in the park. But on the other side of grief, first there is connection with other living things. You are not alone. It sucks being human, sometimes. (or like my nine-year-old says, “I just don’t understand life”). Then it will, slowly, start to suck a lot less, with time. Then, one day, joy bursts into your life, and much like the sun blinds you when you walk out into it after being in a dark room, it’s very very very bright. And you realise the sun was shining all along – you just needed to be in your dark, alone room until you were ready.
So if you’re grieving, I invite you to sit in that room and honour the memory of whatever it is you are grieving over. It’s clearly important to you. But keep your ears, eyes, and all your senses open to joy. Joy is waiting for you, I promise.
If you are struggling with your grief, please talk to a trained professional. In Australia, you can call Lifeline if you are in need of immediate help on 13 11 14.