On Grief, Fear and What No One Ever Told Me

I have been more emotional in the past few weeks than I have been in a long time.  As it seems we are slowly inching our way out of the COVID crisis, with the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter every day, I am also barreling headlong into the ten year anniversary of my tumor surgery.  Both of these things should be reasons to celebrate.  I know deep down there is a part of me that wants to be throwing confetti and popping champagne.  But that part of me is buried way deep down under a boulder of emotion so big it sometimes feels like I can’t breathe.  

In my quest to clear away this boulder, to find a way to let that part of me that wants to celebrate life and all it has to offer, I have been reading more than ever, and in the process, I came across this quote:

No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.

C. S. Lewis

Suddenly I had a name for what I was feeling; grief.  

I feel grief over the fact that my daughter’s first year of life is enmeshed with all ofl the awfulness of my diagnosis, surgery, and recovery.  I feel grief over my damaged facial nerves that make half my face constantly feel like it’s fallen asleep.  And I feel grief for the fact that I can’t go back and not be that person who’s faced a health crisis; that the certainty in believing that my body wouldn’t, or couldn’t fail me at such a young age was taken from me.

I have grief for all that has transpired over these past 18 months as well.  Like everyone else on the planet, I am grieving all that we didn’t get to do, all the family and friends we didn’t get to see, all the celebrations we didn’t get to have.  And most of all, I have grief for the fact that my kids now know what it’s like not to be able to have certainty in their lives.  

All this grief has been tumbling around inside me for so long, it’s grown and morphed from tiny little pebbles into one giant boulder.  The aforementioned boulder of emotion that sometimes makes me feel like I can’t breathe.

Now that I have a name for my feelings, I can also start to work on dealing with all those feelings and emotions.  I can find a place and a space to grieve.  But I can also find a place and a space to remember all the good that has happened over the last ten years.  The good that has come from the tumor, and the good that has come from our seemingly never ending lockdowns over the past eighteen months.  And I’m certain that as I start to see more of the good and less of the grief, the fear and the sadness will start to ebb and the part of me that wants to celebrate this glorious messy life will dawn anew.

What Is the Silver Lining?

It’s hard when things don’t turn out the way you’d hoped they would; when you face defeat, be it big or small, not to feel defeated.  My son faced, what felt like to him, a few big defeating moments one day at the start of the school year this year.  In the grand scheme of things, these defeats were neither defining, nor were really that big at all.  But in his pre-teen, post-COVID, new-normal world, these little bumps on the road seemed like major roadblocks.  

While I employed all the usual parenting tactics with him – we talked about why the events had gone the way they had, if there was anything he could have done to prepare himself better, if there was anything he could do to prevent these sorts of things from happening again – it turned out that this wasn’t what he was looking for from me.

That night, as I was saying goodnight, he asked me to sit in his room with him; he wasn’t ready to put these events behind him and he wanted, not platitudes from me, but for me to listen to him as he wallowed in his feelings. And so we sat and talked about how bad it feels when we face defeat, and how it can be hard to move on.  But then I asked him:

What is the silver lining?

This is a little trick I’ve been trying to use myself of late; when things don’t go the way I’d hoped, I try to find the silver lining in the situation.  So I thought I’d try it out with my son.  At first, he told me that there were no silver linings.  That the situation, and his feelings about it, were all so bad, that there was no good to be found.  But as we kept talking, funnily enough, we did manage to come up with a few little pieces of good, and slowly, the silver lining started to take shape.

Facing defeat is never easy.  And whether those defeats are big, or small, it’s hard not to feel defeated and deflated.  But perhaps if we start to look for the shreds of good in these defeats, and try to slowly knit these shreds of good together, we can create our very own silver lining.

Postscript

As the school year has progressed, it’s safe to say that my motto has become “but what’s the silver lining”.  It’s a catchphrase I think my kids are getting sick of hearing (as indicated by their eye rolls and other facial expressions).  But I’m not!  And If there’s one thing I’ll be glad to have taught them it’s that defeats will happen, and they don’t feel great, but that you can always, always, look for the good in the situation; you can always look for the silver lining.

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