Sitting at the ground zero of my soul, I looked around in disbelief at the collapse of the world as I knew it. For a long time there was nothing to do but sit there. Sit there and die. Sit there and deny. Sit there and digest.
And then one day, six years later, it was time to move.
There was no graduation announcement, no certificate of aliveness or slap on the back. Just a quiet inhale stretching the cage of my heart just big enough for the light to get in.
The moment I fell open to grief.
Falling open didn't change my level of pain, but it did change my level of participation in my grief. Instead of an escape-seeking victim I became a sober human being exploring the cavern of my heart with a magnifying glass called grief.
You see, the only way I would find my way out of this land of loss was by finding my way in. My own way in. Not your way in or the five expected ways in, but my own unique, heart-breaking, heart-quaking, heart-opening way in.
This falling open to grief doesn't change grief. It just changes how it lives in me.
I allow the missing to be a form of gratitude; the memories to be shared instead of shamed; and the anniversaries to be commemorations instead of condemnations.
I never knew grief to be gentle or kind until I began to treat her gently and kindly. In the beginning I could only fight her until I collapsed in exhaustion every night. It wore down my soul and my heart. I would still be fighting her to this day had I not realized she was here to stay.
I could move out, move on, remarry, rewind, slow down, speed up, check out or lean in, but grief had carved out a permanent place in my heart. Instead of constantly trying to evict her, I finally granted her residence in my heart right between love and joy.
For me falling open to grief happened quietly, the way the first green shoots appear on a burned hillside. To the observer the land still looks desolate, but life has taken root.
However we've earned our grief; it's ours forever, just like our loved ones. I can't think of a better way to honor their death than to let it inform and inspire our life.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.