Growth through Grief

I am really glad to be past the third anniversary of my husband’s death. February 15. I held to my personal promise for a get-away. It was no Costa Rica nor Hawaii this time. I headed to the Washington coast beach just an hour away and for only a couple of days. I was extraordinarily fortunate to have sunny 60 degree weather, which meant barefoot walks along the water’s edge. I’ve certainly endured worse weather in June on Washington beaches!

I didn’t take Dave with me. No ashes. No memorabilia jewelry. I did pack some symbols of my past that I wanted to release – to recycle to the sea, I thought, where this particular sense of loss would be diluted in the vast nature of ebb and flow. It surprised even me. Although I traveled specifically to acknowledge the anniversary of Dave’s death, I didn’t take any reminders. I listened to my intuition, and it turned out to be the right choice for me.

Finding my intuition again has been an important reclamation of my life after loss. The internal listening is there for each of us to re-discover, if, like me, you’ve lost connection over the years. Listening is an aspect of “being present” a desirable attainment all the gurus and beautiful people tell us to be, because they have found it to bring personal bliss. Seems so easy – be present, be grateful, wish your way to happiness, everything (magically) falls into place. Ultimately each person has to figure how to really listen to their own instincts and trust its message; to follow one’s intuition. For me, living in presence is the realization we do have a birthright and are always worthy to live in this peace. But there is no magic. There is a lot of listening.

In the silence of being (present) lies the answer to Who am I (now)? I find this as the foremost poignant question of loss and grief. When the separation of “us” turns to “me” the question is glaring. Sitting in widowhood for three years, and with plenty of pondering and poking, Who am I (now)? is finally less intense as I find increasing comfort in simply accepting and being my self, defined as I go along. The new question on this leg of the journey, or at least on the way to the beach, is Where do I belong?

This is growth. Human development over the linear calendar of a lifetime.

All roads before actually do lead me to here. Ha! The pun appears. As some may know, I met Dave at TESC in a program titled Human Development!

As I write in this moment it is very clear to me that I stand in my own Being of today, on a new plateau across the most recent bridge of change. For whatever it means and whatever it is worth, I am the culmination of all my life and experiences. Yet, I am only this moment.

Yeah, that’s sounding a little woo-woo. My point is that I am opening all my senses to examine and understand the real integration of everything I have known from before this date and I am cleaning up – mind, body and spirit. Actually, the qualifiers are again and deeply, because seeking to become wholly me has been deliberate and conscious ever since Dave’s diagnosis of terminal cancer and my writing in Grief Reflection. I find as I really clear the backward paths, unpeeling layer and layer of my life onion – losses, grief, shames, fears, truths, beauty, gifts, relationships, family teachings, and my own stories – stepping into the present is so much easier. All this path work arises from my Who am I (now) probe.

Cleaning up is as much literal as it is figurative and energetic around my house these days. I could write at length on this point while I am in midst of the re-doing, creating and untangling the stuff I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time. Lots of drawers, closets and rooms, including (not exclusively) Dave’s office, are visually more appealing – along with the processing of its meaning.  Notebooks, ideas, dreams, projects, too. I’ve dusted off my Feng Shui books – a part of reclaiming who I have been and I am still, but now with new knowledge and understanding. I’m reconnecting directly with my old decorator and organizer self. Qi, energy, meditation and healing are not just words but ongoing new learning and ancient wisdom I am happy to personally embrace and expand upon. I have much more intentionality around every choice I make in all of my surroundings, be it food, exercise, social, people or home and garden. This is what a real de-clutter, clearing and creation is all about: an intentional flow; harmony.

My physical house clean-up allows me to acknowledge what is important to me. My evolution. If accurately staged, the result will show I am my authentic self: matching insides and outsides, in terms of personality, physical health and environmental transparency. What I bring forward is what really serves me so I can know and be the best I am today, and the rest is recycled into reconciled lessons of life and humanness rather than emotional baggage or literal trash carried any further.

I didn’t take Dave with me to the beach because I realize I no longer need to split him up or release him or ritualize his existence or carry him along in symbols. That takes so much energy! I want what remains physically (his cremains, and library) all in one place now, even in the house. Not scattered. Where they belong, together. Ashes, gifts, notes and books. They are no more than reminders now, just things. Granted, some items are very precious and loveable things. Reminders of his character, love and being. I am not rid of it all. This is one more reconfiguration before legacy items find permanent homes. But I find that the majority of the house is best, or in truth, should reflect “me” not “us” these days. Room by room. Drawer by drawer.

What is important is that the heart of his being resides within me, his children and all those who have known him. This is how he is dispersed as far as I am concerned! I never have to fear forgetting him, and I so deeply understand his contributions to Who I am (now) that active grieving – the top-of-mind ongoing processing of his death, which is my loss – is seemingly done. However, I reserve the right to keep talking to him, because he still contributes to Who I am (now).

Along my route to this place today, I have also been actively naming and grieving and integrating many other past pains and losses. I chose to keep digging deeper until I have arrived at my answer for now. Through grief, I have grown.

The work of grief is inherent in this journey through life. All human journeys include grief. Grief is the process of loss. The pain and suffering of loss stirs and awakens us. If we are willing to listen.

The root question Who am I (now)? prompted by loss has been addressed by philosophers, spiritualists, and people like you and me forever! The question pops up again and again only to be answered with nuances of ongoing change.

It first appears during the whirlwind of survival, an angst of deep loss: Who am I now (without you)?
It shows up in the dark emptiness of grief when everyone else has disappeared: Who am I now (all alone)?
It can pull you down: Who am I now (that cannot).
It can lift you up: Who am I now (so able).
And when you’ve asked enough times the answer might even blossom into transformative growth: Who am I now? Today, I am.

Profound loss always opens the doorway to ask more questions. Where do I belong? What is the meaning of life (and death)? What is my purpose? These are the deeper questions grief asks you to process.

What I have come to know through my expanding work to integrate mind, body and spirit after loss is that processing of anything takes time. The time of grief is never one day, one year, one anything. Or three. It’s a process. It’s shifting. It’s adjusting. It’s growth. It asks again and again: Who am I (now)?


4 replies
  1. Cressa
    Cressa says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful information….it has been 3 yrs. for me also since I lost my husband (Feb. 9th 2012). A very hard loss after 42 yrs. together and two fabulous children.
    You said exactly what I have been thinking for awhile now..”who am I?”. For so many years I was always taking care of someone else and working and truly lost myself….this is a long hard journey..but I am moving along and trying and each day feels so very new to me. Some days are hard and some are great joy and wonder…I am Thankful to be here to greet each day in the now looking for me.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Joan H
      Joan H says:

      Thank you Cressa for bringing me back here. There is difficult work in loss and grief, but who you discover is the enlightenment journey. The most important question for me was to answer what was what my husband Dave loved about me, so I could learn to love myself, too. (Found her!) Build on those little joys and they snowball into the best you each day! Much peace and love. ~Joan

  2. Kerry M.
    Kerry M. says:

    Thank you for writing this. I lost my Alan just over a year ago, and have made it through all the “firsts” Now I am really trying to grapple with the “Who am I and what is my purpose?” questions. I feel the first year was kind of a numb-shock to the system, because not only did I lose him, I lost two beloved pets to old age, my career, My house and all the contents because I chose to relocate back where my family lives and where I always wanted to return…I am sharing a house with my also widowed mother, but still feel like I am trying to catch my breath and learn to “Adult” again….some days are better than others. BUT I am still being haunted with the, OK, you have survived this, NOW what’s next?….It helped to read what 3 years in may be like…. Hopeful.. and that maybe I am just trying to rush through the grieving…I need to give myself permission to just relax and feel it… then trust that what I am meant to do and be will reveal itself.

    • Joan H
      Joan H says:

      I couldn’t have said it any better Kerry. You are nearing or across a transition bridge that is moving into your new journey. Carry with you whatever you need in love for yourself and your memories and what you’ve learned in the time your shared with Alan. Permissions are important – to grieve and even to not grieve. Hang on to recognizing the better days. Live as fully as you can each day and any timetable will melt away. If you’d like to explore coaching with me, please use the contact form. XXOO.


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