Saying goodbye is an art. My dad was awful at it, his goodbyes lasted 30-40 minutes in the driveway of uncles or family friend’s houses. We’d start in twilight and it would be well past dark by the time we got in the car, my mother heaving a heavy sigh. Saying goodbye is difficult I think. The situations run from leaving a party, to the big goodbye when someone dies. Each of those acts has societal norms stamped on them; most of the norms are cultural, and subjective yet can bring folks to flash judgements. I don’t believe there is any right way to grieve or say goodbye I think there is just our right way most especially when there is a death.
Between the middle of March and the middle of April two men I knew by the same first name died. Neither were intimates but I knew them well. In dealing with all that comes with my goodbyes and watching those around me deal with it, I noticed that we all do it differently. What I mean by differently is that each relationship is unique and complicated. Relationships are not all good or bad, they are a blend. So when someone we have been angry with, perhaps estranged from or working our way through forgiveness with, suddenly dies, there seems to be this chaotic tail-spin attached to the process. There is a wobble there in addition to our feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, as we second-guess each one of those states. We feel like we have to justify how we feel to ourselves and frequently others. This is hard stuff; there is no rule book on how to feel when someone we have a complicated relationship with dies. It feels even more unfinished in a way, like walking into your home after a burglary and it is all pulled apart and then having to live in the dishevelment of what is left going forward with no chance to neaten it up.
As I walk through this I can tell you what has helped me. The first thing has been checking in with others who are also walking through it and with others who are not attached or involved. Those who are grieving as well are comrades in arms and one type of conversation happens there. Those not attached give perspective, are non-judgmental in just listening and being a thoughtful sounding board. Both types of conversations help in different ways. Taking time for myself in quiet reflection, sorting through my beliefs and feelings and even spending time to play back conversations help me. Writing, whether journaling or this type of writing helps and others I know have written letters to those they have lost. Physical activity helps with the anger and frustration. I like to match a feeling with an activity; for example if I am angry a soak in the tub does not feel good. I need something that matches the dynamic feeling and vibration of anger I am in need of releasing. that is active. Sadness is more of a tub event as are comfort movies and books. Bringing in activities that historically signal healing and soothing feelings help. So does spending time in nature, whether it is a park, the front steps with coffee or a slow walk around campus; it all helps.
One thing I notice is sometimes there is a belief that letting go of pain, diminishes the love, the importance and the relationship with our loved one. That is not tru: we want to let go of the pain but keep the love, the memories, all the good stuff. Healing is not a disingenuous act here, it is merely letting go of the pain to some extent if at all possible. Sometimes that is not possible and that has to stand as what is at least for today. We can try again tomorrow and the day after. Then there are times we forget and are brought to laughter, or gallows humor overtakes us in dealing with what can be horrible. I can remember covering my mouth as a guffaw broke loose and feeling shame, confusion and yes relief. How can I laugh at a time like this? The reality is we do laugh, we release, we cry, and we are numb, sometimes all at once. Mostly we want it to be over, to feel better, or to go backward, many things that frequently will not happen or not yet. It takes time. I cannot will my broken leg to heal faster no different than I can tell my broken heart to heal faster. What I can do is create the best circumstances for that to happen and wait and work towards feeling better and wellness despite my breaking.
I think being kind to ourselves as we walk through this helps. As we know, berating that broken leg is the least likely way it will heal, as is keeping the cast on forever so it never breaks again. We just have to practice our goodbyes and make peace that these experiences are part of life. And sometimes it will still be twilight when we are done and other times it will be way past dark.