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The Long, Tedious Slog of Grief

Do grievers of hold on to their pain too long? Not by choice.

Key points

  • Nobody chooses to hang on to grief; grief is in charge.
  • Grief can feel like an ongoing connection with the loved one.
  • The goal is to someday remember with more love than pain.
Niklas Hamann/Unsplash
Source: Niklas Hamann/Unsplash

I’m so tired of grieving.

I’m tired in general; grief is surprisingly exhausting, what with all the processing, processing, processing of this new state of things. And on top of that, if you have lost a partner, as I have, you are suddenly burdened with… everything. Whereas there used to be two of us managing the household, now there is only me. I’m getting the hang of it, but it’s a lot of work. Exhausting.

At the moment, however, I’m most tired of the emotion of grief—the relentless drip, drip, drip of sadness and longing. The feeling of hollowness around everything I do. The thoughts I have no one to share with, and the laughs. The missing him, missing him, missing him. I’m tired of all of it. I want it to stop. Too bad. I can’t will it or wish it away. The grief is in charge.

Grief is in the background of everything

I’m not holed up in my house, keening and lamenting. I’m out and about, living my life, social as you please. I just got home from vacation during which I visited numerous people. I go out many evenings—running away from the loneliness of home, to be sure, but enjoying myself nonetheless.

But even as I do, the grief is there. I must actively keep it at bay (exhausting!), and from time to time the tears lurking behind my sociable smile must be wrestled back.

Nobody would choose to cling to this

Sometimes people accuse grievers of holding on to their grief too long. To what end, do they imagine? It’s not like grief gets anyone extra attention after the initial flurry. More commonly people avoid the bereaved person out of discomfort. There is no payoff to grief beyond a deeper understanding of life. Which is no small payoff, but I’d still rather have Tom.

To think that anyone would cling to this experience out of choice suggests a gross underestimation of how miserable it is. Grieving is just a relentless grind of dealing with it and dealing with it and dealing with it—even for those of us who are doing “well” and “moving forward.” (“Getting over it” is a myth. At best, we assimilate the loss so it becomes part of who we are.)

I don’t cry as much as I did, and my grief is now more a deep ache and waves of sadness than intense, stabbing pain. (Most of the time.) And while I’ve gotten tremendous benefits from the grief support groups in which I’ve participated, I’m a little burned out on those at the moment, and I’m taking a break. Tired. Just tired of the job of grieving. They don’t call it grief work for nothing. It is work. Hard work. I’d quit if I could but I can’t.

An unhappy ongoing connection

Three years after he left this earth, Tom still comes to mind for me roughly infinity times a day. I don’t begrudge him these thoughts—not at all. I begrudge the sadness and yearning that come with them, the endless hurting. I’m tired of yearning. My heart is tired of yearning.

I suppose you could call this a stage in my healing, although it’s not like I’m feeling a lot better than I did a year ago. (I do, however, feel a thousand times better than I did the year after he died.) And in some ways, I’m okay with that. Letting go of the pain—as much as that is possible—would feel like letting go of him. My grief over losing Tom feels like an ongoing connection with him. A miserable one, but a connection nonetheless. I imagine I will move past that unhelpful thinking eventually. Not there yet.

But at the same time, all this sadness is tedious, a perpetual spoiler. Grief slips into every pretty day, when I wish he were there but he’s not, or when I see something funny and know he would say something that would make it even funnier, or when I take a nice trip and think how much fun we would have doing it together. Every happy comes with a commensurate sad, and that’s a bummer.

The goal, says my grief guru David Kessler, is to someday remember with more love than pain. So at least I have something to aim for (as if I have any control…). Although I notice that he says more love than pain, not love instead of pain. Because the pain, in some form, is forever. Whee.

It’s a long slog. Tiresome. Tedious. Exhausting. And there’s nothing to be done about it. Grief moves at its own pace. All we can do is trudge along with it.

Facebook image: Bricolage/Shutterstock

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