Photo: Farm in Franschhoek, South Africa
When we’re in the depths of our grief, it can feel as if no one in the whole world understands how we’re feeling. We feel completely alone. Our friends, coworkers and family couldn’t possibly comprehend our struggle. And in some truth, they can’t. Each of us has a unique genetic make-up and set of life-experiences that contribute to our grief.
But when we really settle in and experience the sadness, anger, despair, hopelessness, sorrow, longing, and fear, we find a new truth: there is great universality to our grief.
The first time I fully understood this was during the conversation mentioned in the last post, Be Crumbled, Be Changed. In just five months, my mom passed suddenly, our childhood cat died, then my grandmother passed at 92. My great-uncle, whom I adored, was heading to hospice, and my business was on the fritz. As hard as that was, I had just returned from a trip to Africa with Bike Zambia, where I met and played with countless orphans whose parents had died from AIDS. And – the friend I was writing to, Melissa, was battling a terminal illness, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). She had already lost all mobility except for her head, which controlled the mouse on her computer screen.
I was judging myself tremendously for being in the dumps when so many people had it so much worse. After all, I was healthy. And I had 22 years with a loving father, and almost 32 years with an amazing mom. Some children are left parentless before they turn ten.
“I sit here thinking about how silly it is for me to be so upset, and I think of you and I think of all the people I just met in Africa and then my heart fills with sadness (and some joy) because there are people that are getting through so much harder stuff than I’ve ever had to deal with, and probably ever will…”
Melissa started her reply with a verbal hug:
“… I need you believe that you are an incredible person who can overcome this. you have already begun the process but this is a steep climb…”
And then, she shed light on the universality of grief:
“…please don’t minimize your sadness and compare it to mine or the issues in zambia. your sadness is real and is giving you the exact same grief as me or others that you’ve met in africa. sadness is real and equal despite the cause. a sudden death is awful…and it’s your mom! your grief is warranted and it is ok.”
I read this and I cried.
In my struggle to understand, accept, and surrender to my grief, Melissa opened my eyes to see my sorrow through a new lens. I felt myself grow closer to humankind and witnessed more peace in my heart knowing we are not alone. Rather than feeling sorry for Melissa and the kids I met in Africa, I felt compassion and connection. Thank you, Melissa, for giving me permission to grieve and for helping me understand this universality and one-ness of grief.
I know that for many, the feelings of aloneness during grief can be paralyzing. Whenever those feelings start to creep in, I remember Melissa’s words and am swept into connection. Thank you, Mo, for all of your love and wisdom.
May you fly high with wings spread wide, #4.
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The Melissa Erickson Foundation