Some Things Can’t Be Fixed, and That’s Okay

I ran across a post on Facebook several days ago that I can’t stop thinking about.

Tim Lawrence sums up my numerous thoughts and emotions on grieving in this eloquent and thoughtful post.

I could blast out THOUSANDS of words on the subject, and I could tell you all the ignorant and thoughtless cliches I heard after my father’s death nearly twenty years ago, many of which still sting if I allow myself to fixate on them.

I’m coming into an unfamiliar and somewhat unsettling season. At the same time, I’m finally moving through some hard, but necessary emotions.

As the twenty-year anniversary of my father’s passing approaches in Spring 2016, I find myself thinking more and more about him — my relationship with him, my life before his death and my current life, the after.

I was a fresh-faced twenty-year-old when he died. I’m now a much more weathered forty-year-old.

I’ve lived an entire life without him — half with him, half without. My cousin, who attended his wake at two weeks of age, is now a college sophomore, a living testament to the passage of time.

So much has changed, yet on an emotional level, I often feel exactly as I did the moment I learned he was gone. It’s jolting to think of it this way.

I’m in a season of figuring out where to go from this point forward.

Grief is such a complex thing. It’s highly individual, which makes it challenging to comment on the subject in a broad, general sense.

I’m certainly no expert, and I feel that anytime I write or speak of my own experiences, there’s the chance that I’ll come across as a self-labeled authority, dismissive of others’ experiences, which is not at all my intent.

There is no standard timeline for grief. There is no one book, source, or method of interacting that comforts everyone who’s experienced a devastating loss. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but one of the most renowned books on the subject of grief made me inexplicably angry — A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis.

I can’t explain it, but I felt more alone and like a complete weirdo, for lack of a better word, after reading it.

What did I miss? What’s wrong with me? Why did this book speak to so many while leaving me empty and more removed than before I grazed the pages?

There’s no exact answer.

But I’ve reached a point where I can say — It’s okay. Your experience is no less worthy or valid because a certain book didn’t provide the comfort you were seeking.

I suppose this is an example of the beauty and complexity of humanity. It’s quite individual.

I think what I’m going through right now has something to do with the anxiety I feel about sharing my story. I mean. . . I’m not writing a book on grief or on losing a loved-one to suicide or anything huge like that, but I’m feeling more and more of a push to share in some capacity.

I think in many ways sharing is part of my healing.

And not just the story of my father. I also feel the need to speak about losing my childhood friend, Kitty, as well as other experiences, most of which have to do with addiction and mental illness.

I am a huge advocate for dismantling the stigma of mental illness, yet speaking candidly about my family’s experience is, at times, terrifying.

But it’s also necessary. I’ve always had a strong, persuasive, gut feeling that this part of my life book needs to be told.

While sharing is important, I have to be mindful that I’m not the only one who’ll be affected by the telling of my experiences. I’ve been hesitant about how much to share on a large scale because of how my words could impact the most vulnerable of my relatives. But I worry about this less and less, as the ‘this is critical, essential, necessary’ feeling overrides my ambivalence.

I frequently ask — How can I share and not cause harm?

I’m not sure.

I think that I have to be bold and know that I’m coming from a pure place.

We live in such an era of speaking before thinking. Nowhere is this more evident than on social media.

I err on the side of caution while occasionally over-thinking. I often find myself wanting to spout off when something moves me, but I’ve learned to hold my tongue and sit with strong emotions before speaking, a trait I’ve gradually cultivated that has served me well as an adult. I was quite a mouthy child. I’m hopeful that I’ve learned to strike a balance.

But I also see myself not speaking when perhaps i should because I don’t want to be judged. I’m highly sensitive, and I don’t like to be called out. I can be thin-skinned, though I rarely show that side of myself — I talk a good game and often appear quite tough and as though nothing phases me. I wish this were always the case.

This post quickly became a meandering stream. Where was I?

The article.

Last night I re-read Tim Lawrence’s piece on grief. In the brief search I did on him, I’m beyond intrigued. His site, The Adversity Within, is worth a LONG look, particularly if you’ve experienced a recent loss.

It spoke to me in a way that I can barely articulate.

It was necessary to my healing. I’ve been grieving for just short of twenty years, and nothing has comforted me the way his words did. This is why it’s important to share our stories. I’m certain there were plenty who criticized his words, but I can’t help but ask — How many felt just as I did?

I encourage you to read Tim’s post in its entirety. I’ll provide the link at the end of this post.

Several quotes gave me pause.

The first one encompasses a part of my post-life-altering experience that I fight. I don’t want to be this person, but twenty years later this is part of who I am — but certainly not ALL of who I am:

“I have a more cynical view of human nature and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.”   ~Tim Lawrence

The next one struck me, I think, because of my frustrations with our culture’s desire to neatly put everything into a nice, pretty package, and label it ‘now all is fine.’ We want to fix the unfixable. We latch on to the self-help concept —there’s meaning here.

Just no. NO.

What I took from the following was that it’s okay if, in the midst of grief, we’re not instantly a ‘rise-from-the-ashes’ success story. When a person experiences loss in the form of death, trauma, divorce, whatever, and goes on to do good things or becomes successful, many are quick to say things like ‘it was all part of the plan‘ — and perhaps this holds some truth that you and only you as the grieving person get to decide as you construct your life narrative. But coming from an outsider — a person not saddled with grief — it’s insulting. These words are pompous and insinuate that one’s success happened because the person experienced this atrocious pain and loss. Tim is quick to point out that while, yes, his experiences made him more empathetic, they’ve also hardened him in many ways — a concept that’s mostly overlooked on our quest for the shiny.

I found this helpful. I absolutely believe I’m a more compassionate person because of losing my father so tragically, yet when I need a safe space to talk about my pain, these quick-fix comments feel trite, dismissive, and hurtful. More specifically, I feel like I’m infringing on people’s rose-colored, Western optimism by speaking of my pain. I’ve experienced these words more than I care to admit, and inevitably they leave me wishing I had kept my feelings to myself. Here’s the quote:

“While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide.”   ~Tim Lawrence

The last one speaks to something I’ve struggled with explaining, especially to people who knew me prior to my father’s death. It’s something I need to remember when friends are in the midst of grief, because even though I’ve dealt first hand with tragic loss, I still want to make people I care about feel better. The reality, and what I’d love to be able to voice is this — It can’t be fixed; stop trying. I’m not okay. . . but I am. I’m a different version of okay.  Please allow me to move through this at my own pace, and I will. Perhaps I should consider passing out cards with that verbiage along with this quote:

“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”  — Megan Devine (therapist and creator of the site Refuge in Grief, which I HIGHLY recommend)

Here’s the link to the article. I think it’s a necessary piece that’s so relevant to the cultural topic of grief. Check it out. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2015/10/19/everything-doesnt-happen-for-a-reason

I’d also love to hear your experiences with grief. What resources/rituals/experiences have helped you the most?

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15 thoughts on “Some Things Can’t Be Fixed, and That’s Okay

  1. My father died indigent but left a plethora of comic he’d drawn and tapes of songs he’d written, which is such a precious legacy to me. Each year, on the anniversary of his death, we sort through comics while listening to his voice singing his original music. It’s a cathartic way of dealing with the grief of his passing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry about your father. I also find those kinds of things meaningful — my dad had a business by day but was an aspiring writer and musician. I’ve run across various pieces since his death and found them quite cathartic. I hadn’t thought of doing it on the anniversary of his passing, but that’s a good idea. I think I need to come up with some ideas for this upcoming anniversary. Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Absolutely. I too read A Grief Observed and I love C.S. Lewis. I have several others that I need to unearth because I always forget the titles when others ask.

    I just redid my blog and it is on blogspot. http://tracibarton.blogspot.com ‘Daughters of Joy’. I think that should get you there. While there are a few posts on my losses, there is not a lot. I write more for encouragement of others. I tell a bit in ‘my story’, but I mostly try to stay positive and moving forward. I try to use what I know down deep to help navigate the daily journey. I have a passion for women and just want to lend a hand as I stumble forward.

    I like you, think about telling the deep blue story, but realize it will involve more lives than my own – but someday.

    Thanks for your reply.

    Traci

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  3. I started writing a comment the other day this post was published, and I “lost” it. Arrrrrrgh!

    This is truly a remarkable, beautiful, poignant post. You’re an amazing writer – I’ve always, always said that, haven’t it? You didn’t even send me any checks $$$ in the mail after those comments.

    And as I’ve shared with you a month or so ago, I would rather read your book than some of the current bestsellers (sorry to sound catty – meow!) but it’s true. You have a refreshing, genuine, non-cutesy writing style all your own. You have so much to offer readers from what has happened with your father’s death, etc.

    I will return to this particular post for the references. The past few weeks everything around here has been a sleep-deprived whirlpool and I barely have my head on straight. I know you get it. But anyway, if you take away anything from this comment I want it to be this: you are a Writer, you have a unique story worth telling; your writing is a cut above the rest (sorry for the cliche) and I hope you decide to write a book of your own because I know it would help many people, especially mothers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When my father died suddenly after a life lived with heartache and a great deal of alcohol, I never cried. There wasn’t time. The best I could manage was a bent over silent scream when my mother and sister left the room for a few seconds. After that I was off and running. Planning, caring and doing while my sibling and my mother sat by and let everyone take care of them. Thank God for my husband.

    Once the funeral was over it seemed silly and self-indulgent to dwell on the past and so I moved on…a year later my hair was falling out and I was on anti-depressants. The body will process what the mind will not.

    Now when something tragic and life altering happens to someone, my only advice is, “Please take time to grieve and grieve well. It’s important and it’s yours and yours alone. However you do it will be perfect.”

    However you choose to share your story will be perfect…because you are.

    Sherry

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    • You are TOO kind. Thank you for your encouragement and for always being kind and encouraging. I agree that it’s so important to grieve. I know I was guilty of putting it off. I kind of got knocked on my ass years later, and it’s still a process. I just wish there was a more straightforward path through grief. I often feel like I’m through it, but more often than I like, I find myself wishing for the impossible — I wish things could have been different. I suppose I have to sit with that, acknowledge my feelings and keep going.

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  5. This was a great post, and thank you for the link to Tim’s post. While I agree that many of Tim’s points are right on, I do struggle a bit with his cynicism even though I relate to it on some level. What I have learned through my own grief experience is there is as much common ground as there is a deeply personal journey. (I lost both my parents without warning although not at the same time, I buried my first husband at 41 after a tragic plane crash, and I lost my life mentor and friend within a few days of learning of her cancer.) But, without a doubt I believe that suffering is a great teacher if we choose to learn from it.

    Some things that have helped me, and as Tim says, ‘be that person’. This is the person I try to be for others facing unimaginable realities:

    1. Tell others what you really need. I believe people genuinely want to know and if they ask you, are giving them the opportunity to serve and to grow by giving a genuine answer. They don’t know unless they have suffered greatly themselves. Tell them.

    After my husband was killed, I had so much food brought to my house it bordered on criminal considering how much went to waste. So, when people would ask if they could bring me a meal, I would accept if they were going to stay and eat it with us. We did not need food as much as we needed to fill an empty spot at the table – that we would NEVER be able to fill. And, if I did not need food, I might ask them to pick up milk and bread for me, so that I could make lunch for school. I found my honesty gave them a sense purpose in what felt like a hopeless situation. And, we got what we really needed for the moment so that we could get through to the next one.

    2. Much has been said about the cliches and unthinking comments made as people try to find words to say that are meaningful while often failing miserably. A friend and Pastor used to check-in every week or so and ask what were some of the dumbest things people has said to me that week. In doing that he validated my frustrations in a positive way and allowed me to vent in safety. I found it so helpful to rant with him over the thoughtless comments of others and then I could move on.

    3. Let people in. Just that. You need others to walk with you on this journey through grief. Find some safe people willing to strap on the back-pack with you. People who don’t feel the need to have all the answers. People who will not expect you to be happy, or sad, or together, or falling apart at any given moment. Find people who you can be real and honest with and while you are there share in their journeys too. They will have struggles at the same time as you do and although it may not seem at all the same, it helped me to move forward to not be constantly only wrapped up in my self, but to continue to contribute to others. As Tim pointed out grief can be caused by a death, but it can be also be caused by a lot of unexpected events. I had a friend who spoke to me at the 9 month mark after Brian’s accident, and I realized he had lost his job the same week that Brian was killed. I was astonished. I had no idea. We had such a good talk about his journey, and I walked away realizing how much he had been suffering. It was as real as a death in his family.

    4. And I read. Everything and anything. Somethings made me so mad I would throw them across the room. But, it was all a way to process the pain and agony. It was all valuable.

    5. Seek good counsel. Get counseling. Join a grief group. Do it all. Eight years after Brian’s death, I am still seeking good counsel. I am re-married and life has moved forward, but the quote that ‘some things can only be carried’ is so true. And, I still grieve for my girls, who have spent so many years without their Dad and will never have him again. That is not something that I set down for long before I pick it up and strap it on again. You just carry it. And, I always will.

    Thanks for letting me post. Sorry it was so long.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, and please don’t ever feel like you need to apologize for a long comment — I LOVE long comments and very much appreciate when others share their experiences.

      I especially find your tips helpful as you are no stranger to grief. You have had an abundance of loss. I’m so sorry for all of it and am truly inspired by your candor and resilience, though I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it was and continues to be in many ways. I also agree with your suggestions. I found several things you said especially meaningful:

      “What I have learned through my own grief experience is there is as much common ground as there is a deeply personal journey.” — Absolutely! This has been a large part of my experience. I think I should probably do a follow-up to this post. Since my blog is more or less off-the-cuff, how I’m feeling in the moment, I don’t always focus on the positive aspects of my experience with grief. But the ‘common ground’ part is quite pertinent. ALL of us experience loss if we live long enough.

      “I believe that suffering is a great teacher if we choose to learn from it.” — I wholeheartedly agree. Though this wasn’t my focus in this post by any stretch, this has been a huge part of my journey. I would not be who I am today had I not experienced the losses I have. It has challenged me spiritually in ways I could never fathom previously.

      I love your specific tips as well. I think I do these some days better than others, but I often struggle the most at telling others what I need, likely because I find it varying day to day and even moment to moment. I didn’t mention it in this post, but my whole family in many ways is still grieving the loss of my father-in-law several years ago — this might be the hardest loss I’ve encountered to date, but I think a lot of that has to do more with unprocessed, unacknowledged and leftover grief from my own father’s death.

      Reading and counseling have been especially helpful for me. Even after I wrote this last night, I decided that now might be a good time to re-vist A Grief Observed. Many many books have been helpful at different times.

      Letting people in is a biggie. I agree that Tim’s post was cynical, and though I don’t love that trait in myself, it’s one I relate to on my personal journey. I’ve often tried to keep it hidden and find myself squelching it when it rears its ugly head, which is why I personally found his post nearly revolutionary. I LOVED that he allowed that cynicism to show — there’s a vulnerability there that I respected. I think I’ve straddled that line of not wanting cynicism to overtake me while witnessing different people in my life being so fearful of acknowledging the harder and uglier emotions that are part of the reality of grief. It hindered their healing, knocked them down in a big way so to speak, to a point where they were forced to deal with and process the heavier, less socially acceptable parts of grief.

      Wow — see, there I go again with the crazy-long comment. Thank you for inspiring so much thought!!

      Is there a direct link to your blog? I think I had some trouble accessing it when I tried it before — I’ll try again. You’ve further sparked my curiosity and I want to read your book. I am such a believer in the power of story, and I applaud you for your bravery in sharing yours.

      Thanks again for commenting!

      Like

      • Absolutely. I too read A Grief Observed and I love C.S. Lewis. I have several others that I need to unearth because I always forget the titles when others ask.

        I just redid my blog and it is on blogspot. http://tracibarton.blogspot.com ‘Daughters of Joy’. I think that should get you there. While there are a few posts on my losses, there is not a lot. I write more for encouragement of others. I tell a bit in ‘my story’, but I mostly try to stay positive and moving forward. I try to use what I know down deep to help navigate the daily journey. I have a passion for women and just want to lend a hand as I stumble forward.

        I like you, think about telling the deep blue story, but realize it will involve more lives than my own – but someday.

        Thanks for your reply.

        Traci

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not familiar with Tim Lawrence, but he seems to have a way of putting things. I know grief is different for everyone, and the cliche’s and inane comments do nothing to help the grieving. I’ve been very lucky and only been touched by grief as a third party. My husband still mourns his father who has been dead some 50 years. He went to his dad’s grave the other day because it would’ve been his dad’s 90th birthday. Some deaths you just survive, I guess. Son had a traumatic response to his grandad’s death, and ended up abusing drugs for six months. He got straight, but he never got over that death. I can’t imagine life after Mom goes. I can look at death from a distance, but I know I’d be destroyed if something happened to one of my immediate family members. It would be a death I would not get over. People should know that, but then they should know not to lock their kids in the car with the windows up!

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    • Thanks for your comment. I have to say it makes me happy to see you back in the blogosphere. I love the perspective you offer on multiple topics. It’s interesting to hear you say you haven’t directly experienced grief — and I love that you are able to share your gratitude for your blessings/luck. I also know from following your story that while you may not have experienced grief from tragic death, you have had your share of loss. I also see a tremendous amount of wisdom. I was probably a bit harsh in this post about the cliches and inane comments — I’ve had my share of those, but the love and support has greatly surpassed the stupidity. If I’m having a good day, i can even recognize that the less-than-stellar comments are an attempt at love. Not sure I’m making sense. Thank you again for commenting. I’m heading to your blog now — your jewelry post grabbed me when I read it and I wanted to make sure I shared that with you! You are quite talented!

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  7. This was a beautiful post. I’ve found a lot of peace in the writings of Pema Chodron. You might enjoy her, if you haven’t already. It’s all so hard and complicated some days, isn’t it? Hugs.

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    • Thank you! I know you’ve experienced grief of late. I LOVE Pema Chodron. Thanks for reminding me — isn’t it crazy how we get so bogged down and forget THE things that truly provide comfort and peace? At least that’s how it is for me. Big hugs, friend.

      Liked by 1 person

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