December 29, 2021
At first glance, you may be thinking there’s not much room to consider cultivating much beyond the grief process itself.
Trust me, I get it. It’s hard enough to simply wake up and complete the basics on some days. When my mom first died, taking a shower, stretching, and making breakfast for myself resulted in my needing to spend the rest of the day in bed to recover. Further, the idea of needing to do anything in addition to facing pain head on day by day is overwhelming, to say the least.
I don’t know exactly when or how things shifted along my grief journey. However, little by little, I felt increasing freedom to focus on new ways of living in the face of loss. We must all take stock of our own paths and determine what’s needed to continue moving forward.
For me, it was magic.
Let me explain.
I’ve always believed in the wonder of magic. From early childhood years until now, there’s always been something mysterious and awe-inspiring about magic shows. The idea of an object appearing right before my very eyes, followed by its disappearance intrigues me. What I see is not always what is.
I last attended a magic show in Las Vegas in 2016. And unlike prior performances, I felt determined to unearth the magician’s secrets. As a result, my dear friend and I purchased oh, so expensive tickets and snagged front row seats. Nothing was going to get past me this time, I thought. Nevertheless, after straining my eyes to study the magician’s every move, his subtleties fooled me yet again.
In many ways, my grief journey has paralleled magic.
The first several years beyond my mom’s death, all I observed was heartache and pain. No matter what I did to experience my day-to-day in new ways, it was all I could see. In the grocery store. At work. Amongst friends. In the midst of strangers. I couldn’t seem to escape its grip.
‘What’s that?’ I genuinely asked. She shared that with grief often comes a survival-inspired tunnel vision, a natural response to loss. With this vision, grieving hearts focus wholeheartedly on what the next best step is, challenged to take in the broader picture. This was certainly true in my case.
She assigned a series of exercises for me to try between sessions. In full transparency, I found them ridiculous. One of the first ones was to visit an art gallery and take a picture of any painting of interest.
I hesitantly completed the assignment, only concerned about the conversation to be had if I didn’t do so. My therapist asked a bit about my trip to the gallery, then explored my thoughts about the painting. I remember sharing the colors present on the canvas, as well as its general form. This is such a waste of time, I thought.
Session after session, my therapist continued to bring up the painting. She inquired about new insights, perspectives, and feelings. And nothing came to mind … until it did one day.
As we both stared at the picture of the painting, I shared a new discovery. In plain sight was a woman standing in the background. Prior to the session, I’d overlooked her. My therapist probed, and I described the woman. A figure in the shadows, unseen and quieted in her sadness. The woman I described was me.
Of course, my discovery prompted more conversations over time. In addition, my therapist revisited the concepts of magic and curiosity.
What I realized in that moment was that what I saw up to that point in my grief journey wasn’t all there is. Yes, the pain was real. Yes, I experienced heartache. I desperately longed for my mom. And there was a woman in the background. For me, the woman represented other aspects of my life that I’d forgotten about or simply overlooked. I knew I needed to tend to other aspects of my life. In other words, I finally needed to begin living again.
Here are my thoughts with full disclosure. None of these will make grief go away. You’ll still feel the ache and longing associated with your loss. Nevertheless, you may discover a woman (or man) in the background. And that person may, in fact, be you.
Know that whatever you choose, my friend, is perfect.
You may discover, as I did, that what you see is not always what is.
I’d love to hear from you, so please share your thoughts below.
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