I saw Bob, my spiritual director, today. He helped me sort through another rough week and added yet another layer to my ever-growing understanding of grief.
This week was the fourth anniversary of Tim’s death. Many times, the anticipation of difficult days ends up being far worse than the actual event. Not this time. The day was tough from the moment I woke up until well after midnight.
If you know me, or if you have followed my blogs for any amount of time, you know I have been blessed with an exceptional quality and quantity of support people. Sometimes I have conversations and experiences with them that challenge my thoughts and beliefs, and sometimes I just plain end up disagreeing with them. And that is okay.
I went into Bob’s office today with a specific question in mind, based on some of the conversations I have had this week. If a person is truly grateful- i.e. really, honestly understands on a deep level- for the blessings in their life, is it possible to remain sad or depressed?
I knew my answer was yes, because that is what I am experiencing. I know enough, however, about human nature, that sometimes we are blinded to truths that are painful for us to accept. I wanted Bob’s unbiased opinion. He was quiet for a moment or two, so I knew I had asked a difficult question, one that was more complicated than it appeared on the surface. When he gathered his thoughts, he very confidently answered that yes, most definitely you can experience both at the same time.
He is a man who has experienced plenty of grief in his life. He sometimes shares some of his stories with me. Today we talked about the frustrations of complicated grief. He said that we do the “work” of grief, whether or not we are even conscious of the fact that we are doing it. He mentioned how there are times when he feels sad or angry (or both) and doesn’t know why. Then he puts two and two together and remembers it’s an anniversary date or a particular time of year that is historically related to his grief.
I kind of jumped at that. I have had that happen, too. But I pointed out how when you ARE conscious of why you are sad or angry (or both), then sometimes the criticisms come out. (At least it feels like criticism.) If you KNOW you are at a difficult time of the year (or whatever), then suddenly you are dubbed as having a negative self-image. You are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are not “letting it go.” You are holding on to your pain. I swear, you just can’t win.
I go out and preach all the time about being willing to hold opposing truths in your heart and soul, even though it’s difficult. It didn’t click with me though, until this session that this is another one of those deep paradoxes of life. Yes, I can absolutely be grateful for my home, my healthy children, my amazing friends and family. I can be completely aware of how lucky I am in regards to those things compared to other people. But that doesn’t mean for one second, that the test of that gratitude is how happy or depression free I am. I can be grateful, and yet still be knee-deep in grief and depression.
I have no idea where grief ends and depression starts or vice-versa. I don’t even know if there is a difference. And I don’t even think it really matters.
I received some gifts on the 14th, which were intended to help lift my spirits. Was I grateful? Yes. But truthfully, I had a long talk with the gift-giver about how I was a little uncomfortable with it. It was a day to grieve. Opening gifts was in opposition to that. And me being me, it created a sense of guilt. I felt pressure to be happy and grateful, when I was anything but that. After my session, I felt more secure in the fact that it might actually be just fine to feel that way.
Bob says I am in a very, very long season of winter. It is what it is. It does not seem to be going away any time soon. But he also stressed that I AM NOT STUCK. I am alive and moving. He also said not everyone will be able to wade through the journey with me.
I was hurt by a guy who wasn’t able to be there for me on the 14th. I know there was an element there of him not wanting to be bothered, which is just plain disappointing. But Bob pointed out that for most men (sorry, guys!) there is also an element of fear. Men don’t connect with their emotions as readily as women do. To sit on a couch with me while I was so in touch with my sadness, would be a place that some people (men or women) just couldn’t go to. I had to admit that is most likely true. And while genuine caring is still there, sometimes people try so hard to help, because they can’t stand their own pain of watching someone else suffer.
It’s two days after the 14th. I’m feeling a little better than I was on that day. I’m glad for that, but I am very aware that I am still deep in winter. Just know, that when people like me are there, we are not “choosing” to be. There isn’t a formula to follow that will change it. No amount of saying “positive” phrases or focusing on blessings is going to erase it. That doesn’t mean I still won’t try, because I will. But I have made a promise to myself to try not to add guilt and judgment to my sorrow, and perhaps it’s a good reminder for you support people out there, too when you are watching me (or whoever).
It is what it is. And it is winter.