My brother’s dog has been so depressed since I left after a weekend visit that he won’t eat and had to sleep in bed with my brother and his wife. They said they’ve never seen him so despondent before.
Either that little dog has a pretty smooth racket going or we are witnessing grief in its simplest and most innocent form.
Unless we are unbelievably fortunate or are hermits we have all experienced loss—the loss of a job, of a friendship, of an opportunity, of a romantic relationship, some of us have lost our minds, and most of us have witnessed the loss of life. I’ve recently experienced a major loss in my life. At first I was like my brother’s little dog—I couldn’t eat or sleep and I wandered aimlessly around the house looking for a ghost who had long disappeared. After getting through the initial stages of grief I seem to be at the stage that’s not as glamorous as denial or anger:
The “now what?” stage is that moment of clarity: well, X happened, and I’m still here so…now what? Experiencing a loss doesn’t mean you have to immediately fill that void with something else that will superficially cover up the pain. In fact, I recommend giving the void some breathing room. Let it be and see what happens. Then look around and see what else is already in your life that you haven’t been to experience something fully. Or, you know, do what I did and begin an intense contact sport.
A few years ago I’d emotionally hit rock bottom and decided to go back to taekwondo after a twenty year hiatus. For years I had focused on the loss or lack in my life and was blind to all the wonderful things I did have. The emotional pain was still there even as I mastered low block, middle punch, and roundhouse kick, but as it dissipated I knew I had gained something special. I still can’t put my finger on it, but it broke me of the habit of dumping all the responsibility of self-worth and validation on another person. I know I have more confidence, a better sense of priorities, and…OK, well, I also love the way my lower ab muscles pop out. Taekwondo opened my eyes. I gained the Me that had been buried for decades under decay and darkness.
Taekwondo was there long before I experienced my recent loss and will be here long after the pain has lessened. It’s a great source of comfort—I’m learning something new, I have a goal to focus on, there’s never a lack of endorphins, I’m out and around people–which is a nice break from being in my introverted head all the time, and we laugh a lot more than you’d think in martial arts classes.
Yesterday during class I felt a little tug—the sense of community that I have shrugged off my entire life. The sense that even though the ache of grief and loss is still there, it is surrounded by something positive that I love to do and embraced by people who care about me….and who also won’t think twice of kicking the crap out of me or throwing me on the floor. We’re weird like that.
If you are grieving for a loss and don’t know what to do…let it be. It’s here and it’s terrible, but you’re still standing too. You might not be able to erase the pain, but you can gain new insights and ways of experiencing joy that you might have overlooked before. The answer to “now what?” is “anything you want!” Fight back by continuing to live.
Happy update: my brother reported that his little dog’s spirits are back up again. I almost felt bad for even visiting and letting him get attached to me since my absence caused him so much pain. But my little puppy “nephew” was just experiencing what anyone (or any animal) who is capable of loving is bound to experience: loss. It’s encouraging to know that after experiencing loss and grief there is love, hope, and happiness around the corner.