Grief’s (Imaginary) Finish Line
One Big Mistake I Made When Starting My Grief Journey
“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” - John Dewey
Like every other beginner, I made a ton of mistakes when starting my grief journey. Even using the word beginner feels off, because I don’t imagine I’m an expert (nor do I want to be). Expertise requires lots of experience and practice, and most days I’m too much of a coward to welcome the challenge of grief back in my life. In some ways I wish I could go back to the days of being a grief novice and blanket myself with the warmth that naivety provides. A comforting lie that convinces me that life’s inputs always match the outputs.
But I’ve lived long enough to know that we don’t always get what we wish for (which is good news for people like me who can be so scared of life’s truths that I’d prefer to be lied to).
I started with the quote on learning and failure because like everyone that unexpectedly finds themselves sucker punched by grief, I made a ton of mistakes.
But this was the biggest one, by far:
Beating Myself Up for Not Reaching Grief’s Finish Line
Here's what would happen:
I’d wake up each morning wondering if today was the day that I got back to normal.
Would today be the day that I wanted to do something other than sit in the dark?
Would today be the day I didn’t feel guilty for laughing at jokes?
Would today be the day I had a conversation with someone and didn’t bring up Sam or how much I missed him?
It was like clock work. For years.
Nothing necessarily, was wrong with the questions. Everything was wrong with what my answers did to me. I spent everyday distressed AND disappointed in myself for being so far from the finish line. I held myself hostage to outcomes no one in the world was expecting of me, and was mad at myself when I failed to reach them.
As time went on, and those days swelled into years, I eventually gave up.
It’s been 8 years and I’ve failed to find a finish line, much less reach one.
And that failure has taught me one of the most important lessons when it comes to grief.
Where there’s no Finish Line, Forward Progress is the Goal.
The goal isn’t to finish. There is no going back to normal. Remember, my normal was being comforted by some naive fantasy that life’s inputs always matched its outputs. And when you live like that, you treat precious moments as more permanent than they really are. Grief teaches us that’s not the case.
Grief is a starting point. Grief is an invitation into an ongoing conversation. The memories of past losses reach up to tap us on the shoulder when our noses are buried in our phones instead of nestled next to our daughters. Our past grief whispers
This precious moments are as precious as they are fragile. They won’t be around forever.
Handle them with care, don’t take them for granted.
Don’t fret over the lost ones to the extent that you don’t enjoy the ones right in front of you.
That’s good news for me, because I’m forgetful and need that constant reminder. Those reminders have made me a better, more present version of myself.
Sometimes our failure to finish opens our eyes to the reality that success isn’t about some ending, but a renewed passion to start over and move forward every day.
Today is a good day to move forward.
(Day 2/30) - 30 Days of Hope
Thanks for reading Four In the Morning! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.