There are very few days in my life that I remember with as distinct clarity as Thursday, February 11, 2010. I can recount the breakfast I ate, the friends I laughed with on the way back to my dorm room, and the greeting I gave when my dad called me with the news that completely and immensely changed my life.
It was cheerful. Life was fun. Free. Going my way. Happy. Light.
My dad’s voice on the other end of the phone was all it took. A few words. A conversation that was truly a blur. And my world completely changed.
You could say it came crashing down.
Splintered into more pieces than I could count.
Trampled my spirit. Crushed my soul.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. That I don’t think of the hole her death left in our family. In my heart. In our future. The loss of a sister is something I never expected to experience at 20 years old.
In the months and years that followed her death, I’ve struggled. It would be a lie to say I haven’t. While outwardly, I strive to be optimistic and to be strong, inwardly, I’ve wrestled with the emotions that grief has thrown at me every day since.
I’ve sat down a million times to write about it, thinking that it’d make me feel better.
I’ve attempted talking to people about it, with varying levels of success. It’s fucking hard to talk about.
I’ve pondered the truths of life, death, heaven, hell and immortality more than I’d like to admit.
But most of all, I’ve learned to sail through stormy seas.
You see, I have found that Grief has been a swift, challenging and unforgiving teacher in my life.
In the worst of times, it challenged me to truly feel.
To look SHITTY, HORRIBLE, TERRIBLE, NO-GOOD emotions right in the eye, grab hold, and fucking figure out how to live through them… while on occasion, managing to unearth the HAPPY, JOYFUL, ENLIGHTENING emotions that were lurking in the darkness of my heart during the toughest of times.
Through those lessons from Grief, I’ve come to learn three truths about emotion that I believe to be universal:
First, when something truly tragic and difficult happens in your life, you do not simply ‘get over it.’ Ever.
The sadness never goes away. It doesn’t relent. You don’t wake up one morning and decide, “oh wow, hey, I’m totally over that horrible thing that completely changed my world. It’s like it never happened. I’m good and happy now. Hooray!”
If anything, I’d say that your heart and mind figure out how to accommodate the hurt. Your brainspace for feelings and such rearranges.
You figure out how to say, “Yep, still burns like it did when I first heard those tragic words. But I now know how count my blessings, thank God for the time he did give us together and be happy, because that is how she’d want me to go about my life.”
You figure out how to put happy and sad right next to eachother and project out onto the world the emotions you want projected back at you.
Secondly, Grief has taught me that in the darkest of times, your heart literally expands.
I’m not talking about the blood-pumping organ here. I’m talking about emotional capacity. Your innate ability to feel.
Many people say that when they first hold their newborn child, they literally can feel their hearts overflowing with love. I’m going to turn that saying on it’s head with some morbidity and say when you feel your first true heartbreak, you literally feel your heart expanding to make room for grief. It’s a slower process. One that takes a lot of crying yourself to sleep to fully understand… but it happens.
In the four years since Kristina has died, my heart has only grown. Sometimes, I like to think that’s her spirit, giving me strength and teaching me how to truly, deeply feel. Not just the hard emotions, but the light-giving emotions. Happiness. Joy. Friendship. Empathy. Love.
I can feel the SHIT out of a whole range of emotions now. And I like to think it’s because Grief taught me how to.
And finally, every individual experiences every single one of their emotions in a complete, deeply personal, unmatched way.
There is no competition. There is no race. There is no “I know exactly how you feel.” <– That statement will never, ever be true. There is no “your grief is greater than mine” or “my grief is greater than yours.” While we as humans have an immense and beautiful capacity to feel empathy for one another, no other person will ever fully understand our individual emotions.
And that is perfectly okay. It ’s divine, even.
After Kristina died, for awhile I felt somewhat like an outsider among my friends and peers. I was dealing with something that thankfully, very few of the people in my life could relate to. As I struggled with the grief of losing a sibling, I often felt like the day-to-day trials and tribulations of life were simply not worth getting worked up over and found myself thinking in my head, “geeze, there are so many worse things that could happen to you” while others worked through their problems.
That kind of thinking wasn’t serving me in being a friend to the people that were in my life at the time and it certainly wasn’t serving me in coping with my loss.
You see, as the great teacher Grief would have me learn, each and every one of our emotions are unique. Our strength and capacity to feel are situational.
We’re emotional beings, all trying to stay afloat amid different and difficult stormy seas.