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That’s What She Said | How To Deal With Light When Emerging From Grief

By Kelly Wilson

It’s hard to have nice things. Really hard. Also, that’s what she said.

After I had children and discovered the sheer destruction that they wrought on – well, everything – I decided that I could not have nice things. Everything I bought was temporary, so much so that this became a way of life. I only recenty realized that the kids are now teens and maybe I don’t have to live with chipped dishes or a 15-year-old lumpy couch or bleached-out towels anymore.

Both gradually and suddenly, there had been a transition, and I could shift my thinking. I could go to Ikea and buy new things and even enjoy them.

We have nice things in grief and trauma, too. There comes a time when we start to emerge from the utter and complete and suffocating darkness. We can start to have nice things again. The discomfort of the healing process begins in earnest, like the itching that comes as skin stitches itself back together.

First there are pinpricks of starlight. Then the darkness isn’t velvety black, but the silver gray of twilight. There are streaks of pink and tangerine and violet. We carefully extinguish the birthday candle-sized flame that had helped light the way, tucking it into a pocket. Both gradually and suddenly, there was a transition from utter darkness to shades of light, and while I can see and comprehend this change logically, my heart is slow to catch up.

As your surroundings lighten and you emerge from the utter darkness of grief, here are some ways that might make the process a little easier.

Befriend the Discomfort

Anyone who has experienced a physical healing process knows how uncomfortable it can be. The same is true for our emotional well-being. We may be walking in the light, but for awhile we act like we are still stumbling in the pitch blackness of a previous time. There is the temptation to sabotage the self and/or others. To make everything darker again because it is known. To close ranks, tighten up, seize control in whatever way possible. All to stop this tilting, slightly nauseous feeling of knowing we are in a lighter time but continuing to feel that shoe that’s about to drop, threatening as it hangs there, just out of reach, even as we know it’s not real.

I recently had three different people gently lecture me on practicing not holding on to that darkness. That I can have nice things, now that I can see them in the burgeoning light. I can – metaphorically – get a new, comfy couch and fluffy, fresh towels and whole dishes. Not only that, I can even enjoy them.

The idea feels deeply uncomfortable. Light blinds you for a while after you come out of the darkness.

There’s a poem by Rumi that addresses befriending emotions through this process. As morning light dawns, there are new emotions that arrive, some unexpected. Not only does this poet encourage us to welcome them, but to entertain these visitors. To delight in them. To be grateful for them.

I so badly want to tell myself that I don’t need to feel this discomfort as I make the transition from a dark time to a lighter one. Clearly, though, that is the price of healing and openness and movement. Making friends with and embracing discomfort takes some of the fight out of the process.

No Ifs, Ands, Or Buts

I’m not saying that befriending the discomfort is easy, by any means. I have my post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety diagnoses that insist that this is a great time to start freaking out.

The thing about my special brain is that – with some concentrated effort and excellent, regular self-care – it can be managed. Is it hard? Yep. Hard’s not always a bad thing. Also, that’s what she said.

When I first moved out of my house and left my marriage, my brain would spin at the oddest times – odd even for me, who is intimately familiar with grief and trauma. Scooping out the last spoonful of peanut butter one morning, my thoughts went from, “This is the last of the peanut butter that I took when I moved out,” to “I am going to die alone” in about three ricocheting, cartwheeling, parkour-loving thoughts.

Now is the time to stop the spinning. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that I’ve found helpful, encouraging a mind-body connection, focusing on the breath, and practicing living in the present moment. No “What about?” or “What if?” No wondering how everything is eventually going to go terribly wrong, because maybe it will go completely right. No imagining the worst or even the best – all of that is in the future and out of our control, anyway.

Regardless of what the future holds, life unfolds before us no matter how many questions we ask or how much we spin inside our own heads.

Decide. Make a Choice.

There is a point in the grief process where we start to emerge from total darkness. The stars that guided us step by step are still there, but they fade until we need to see them again. Light dawns over the horizon. It is in this dusk, the magic of twilight, that we need to make a choice.

Do you want to stay where you are, or do you want to move forward? Do you want darkness or do you want light? Is the joy and goodness and lightness worth the risk of the perceived threat of the dropping shoe? Is the growth work of capturing spinning thoughts worth the peace you’ll experience, regardless of how uncomfortable it feels?

Friends, not making a decision is making a decision. Make a choice.

Sure, the light is bright, but guess what? Sunglasses are cheap. Buy several pairs.

Being in the present is as much a practice in the light as it is in the darkness. The investment will be worth seeing what is ahead.

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