You would think after losing quite a few people and experiencing a few tragedies in my life, I would be used to it by now. A couple of months ago, I probably would have agreed with you. I would have expected much more from myself. I would have expected to be better, and to not let it bother me. Today, on the other hand, I would say bullshit. I did not understand this concept after my aunt’s motorcycle accident or the struggles my family went through after it, nor did I understand it after I lost my uncle to suicide. I did not understand it after any of my breakups, after I tore my ACL, or after the countless amounts of times I have fallen short in life. It wasn’t until I lost my grandpa, Bubba, that I realized that grief was not a set process. I have Andrea, my Residence Hall Director (and boss) at the time, to thank more than anyone for helping me understand this.
I was sitting in a one on one with Andrea a month or so after I lost my Bubman, and I expressed to her my frustration with, “Not being 100% yet”. She laughed a little, and simply said that it was okay. She explained to me that “getting better” doesn’t happen overnight. Grief can take weeks, months, even years to process. She also explained to me that all grief was different, and that I couldn’t try to compare my current grief to my previous experience with grief, or with another’s experiences of grief. The things she said to me that day occupied my brain for the next couple of weeks, and gave me the perspective I have today on healing.
Healing is not an overnight process. When we are attempting to heal, we don’t go from 0% to 100% within a night’s time, and we must stop trying to look at it that way. I have developed a new philosophy in regards to progressive healing. In essence, healing is a process that takes place over time, and should be measured in small gains, not in giant leaps. When explaining this philosophy to my residents when they are having a hard time, I often use percentages as a way to explain it.
Imagine a break up. The first day, you may find yourself at 0%. You’re experiencing a lot of tears, a lot of pain, and a whole hell of a lot of chocolate. You have no motivation, and you’re struggling with accepting the events that have happened. The next day feels the same. Hell, maybe the first week seems the same. But, somewhere along the course of the next couple weeks you realize that everything is the same, except you’ve stopped crying everyday. Look at you! You’re a couple percentages better. Maybe you’re feeling like 5% now. Does 5% feel good? No, probably not. But, I’m willing to bet you it feels a hell of a lot better than 0%. In a week, you’re able to make it to every single one of your classes. Look at you now, you’re at 10%. The fact of the matter is, you are making progress. It may not be strides, but steps are better than nothing. As humans, we need to learn how to appreciate the small steps. We have to start giving ourselves credit for where we are at.
Another thing I frequently find myself telling my residents is that you have to let your body, mind, and soul feel how they need to feel. Do not swallow your grief. Do not ignore it. Your pain demands to be felt, and it demands to be felt for good reason. If your body is tired, you let it rest. If your body is hungry, you give it food. Don’t let healing be any different. Don’t push yourself past the limits your body and mind have set for you. Acknowledge them. Accept them for what they are. You will find that when you’re comfortable at your current limits, you will develop a new set of limits.
Just as we have to learn to live, we have to learn to heal. The healing process will be different for everyone, and it may even be different for you depending on the circumstances. I know that I am still learning to heal, and I am still learning to cope with the loss of my grandfather. I still have days where thoughts of pain can overwhelm my brain. But, I am getting better. My family is getting better. We are taking this journey together. I am learning how to heal, and I am growing in the process.
I may not be 100%, but I am far better than where I started off.
Appreciate the journey. Grief is a time where we can learn an immense amount about ourselves. Utilize this time to grow.