Secrets From the Grief Trenches
Weeks after my mom died I found no space adequately safe for my feelings. I mean no space. Not my bedroom, not my living room, not the park, not my car, not in a hug from a friend. I would lay there awake at night with tears rolling down my cheeks. I wasn’t even trying to cry, I wasn’t even feeling that deep belly ache you feel when the tears are preparing to come out of your body—the tears were just producing themselves and multiplying at a rapid pace.
My dad would come into my room in the morning to wake me up and I would say to him wide eyed and foggy, “Daddy, why does it hurt so bad? When is it going to stop?”. And then I would turn over and realize I had been up all night and it was time to face the world. College wasn’t pausing so I could grieve, work responsibilities were not stalled because I was sad, the world was moving at warped speed and I was staring at a soaking wet pillow wondering how I was supposed to muster enough energy to attend class.
Then I discovered the joy of crying in the shower. My dad would leave for work in his work appropriate suit doing his best to carry his backpack of grief on his shoulders, and I would walk into the bathroom, turn the water on as hot as it would go and I would wale. Yes, like a grieving Italian widow in a mob movie, I would stand in that shower for as long as it took and I would cry and cry and cry. The steam would rise up and carry my pain right out of my body and up over the shower door away from me. I would beg my mother to return, I would ask her what happened, I would ask her how I was supposed to ever live a normal life again. Then I would wipe the tears off of my face, turn off the water, grab my towel and go about my day.
Sometimes I would show up to my writing class in what some would call, “gym wear” which is really just pajamas worn in the daylight. I was 22, what did it matter what I wore? My hair was on top of my head, my eyes were covered in mascara and concealer to hide the swelling and I would observe the world around me in slow motion. No one made any sense, none of the material seemed to matter and the only thing I wanted to write about was people dying. All of my stories centered around sad children, dead mothers, family feuds, loss, loss, loss, pain, darkness. I have pages and pages of scenes from hospital rooms, kitchen tables where families are planning a funeral, monologues from the perspective of each member of my family post-funeral. I used writing to understand what was going on and I used the shower to grieve.
I write all of this not as a coach necessarily, but as a full feeling and living human being. I write this because maybe one of you are in a lot of pain and you are lost and no one has told you about the shower trick yet. Maybe your pain is so big you want to break things (guilty) and so you dream of taking your finest china and smashing it against the side of your garage. Send me your address, I have some china to spare.
Last night over delicious pizza I talked with a friend who is navigating grief. She told me of her pain, her agony, her loss, her confusion, her solace. She told me that silent mornings are her medicine and then she talked about the only place that she is capable of releasing all of her emotions is in the hot shower when no one else is home. “The shower!” I exclaimed, mirroring her experience. “So many days crying in the shower”.
“More people should know about the shower”, she said.
”And more people should be able to break things,” I replied.
“That’s a thing now! You can go to a place and just break things. They even give you safety gear,” she cheered.
“We should go do that, I will go with you,” I promised.
Sometimes there is no solution to your pain. Sometimes there is no right answer, right next move, plan, action, person, insight, quote, song, etc. Sometimes the only thing you can do is cry your eyes out in the shower and let the hot water wash over you.
I asked my mom if I would ever be able to live a normal life again. The answer is no, nothing is “normal” after heartbreak. Her death changed me and as it was changing me it also brought with it new life. That new life was scary, I didn’t want it, I fought it, I wrestled it to the ground and then it won. I was forced to move forward even though I did my best to stay there, crying, overheating in the shower. New life came along and swept me up and eventually the tears dried up.
And I built tenacity. Now when I go to the shower, most of the time I do not cry. I shave my legs, wash my hair, sing a few tunes and go on my merry way. When pain comes for me…heartache, grief, disappointment, it isn’t as big, the tears don’t multiply without my direction. But every once in awhile, every other full moon or seriously heart wrenching experience, I turn off the lights, light some candles and cry while the hot water washes over me.
I thought I would be crying every single day in the shower for the rest of my life. That’s how big the sadness truly was. And as I got further and further away from those days of deep grief, the kind that break your soul…I almost forgot how important it is to give people time. But lately clients will say to me. “Well I took a week off of work”. And I say, “not enough. It’s not enough. You think it is, it’s not. “
No amount of weeks are going to cure this. The healing is not in the weeks, it’s in the shower. Take the sabbatical if you can afford to. Quit a bunch of things that no longer have meaning for you so you can create space for the new life, even though I know you don’t want it right now. Go on the road trip, take the hike, write the letter or the play or the memoir. I don’t care what you do but give your grief WAY MORE SPACE than you think is appropriate. Way more. Take 100 showers before expecting a damn thing from yourself.
Don’t rush it. Don’t punish yourself. Don’t judge your process. Don’t expect a guru to fix it. Let the tears come as they come and then go when they are ready.
I have a coach too, she has me working through my most authentic program—how to build the thing I dream about. It starts with this; allowing people time and space. Time and space folks, that is what we all need. When she asked me how long the program should take I laughed. “How much time?”. Well I guess if I have to…I will put a time table on this..but just incase no one told you…grief has no timeline. It plays by its own rules. I know that’s not comforting but it’s the truth. Recovery takes what it takes, but let’s start with three months.
So please give yourself time or if it’s a friend or a loved one or a colleague that is grieving, please please give them time, more than you think they need. I don’t mean ignore them or let them be, I mean hold the space for them for as long as they need you to. And if it’s you who is hurting, do me a favor and break the shit out of the china.