I did not expect my grandmother’s death in December to bring so much of the pain from my past losses back to life. On a lot of days, my grief spills over into other parts of my heart, reawakening the devastation I felt from the loss of L, the therapist I stopped seeing last May, as well as the sadness of missing my close friends and mentors from undergrad. I always knew that grief would take me on a curving, misery-laden path – no linear progressions, no easy fixes, no strong emotions that just fade into weaker ones over time – but you still feel heartbreak even if you prepare for it. Someone makes a mean, insensitive comment to an employee at work and I think, my grandmother would have never treated someone like that, and a pounding ache hits me right at the top of my ribcage. Or someone says something about relationships in a therapy class, and it reminds me of a close friend I used to see every day and tears prick the back of my eyes. Or I go on a jog in the woods while listening to my favorite new pop artist, BlackPink, and I suddenly break into sobs because I remember how I would watch Ariana Grande music videos with L, and I think, I wish I could show him BlackPink, even though I know he would find my new pop obsession just as silly as my past one.
My mother taught me a lot about how to judge myself, about how to evaluate myself based on my production. When grief – the sadness, the anger, the sheer painful emotion of having had and now having no longer – hits, I often judge myself. Sitting in my sadness does not help me accomplish my goals. If I take too much time to just let myself be, I am failing the people I care about: my friends, my mentees, the people who I say I cherish but then take way too long to message back. I kind of suck a lot, honestly, even if I have listened to Ariana Grande and BlackPink more than literally any other person on this planet.
Despite these thoughts, I am trying to treat myself with the self-compassion I know I deserve, to give myself the same space to grieve as I would a friend or a therapy client. The truth is, when I feel my feelings, it does make me less productive, at least for a little while, and that is okay, because I am more than my curriculum vitae or my resume or my LinkedIn profile. I would rather feel the enormity of my loss than avoid it, because that enormity shows how much I cared about these people, and how much they cared about me.
I cared, and I care, so much about my grandmother, L, my friends and my mentors. And they cared, and care, about me in the deepest and most nourishing of ways, offering me that rare source of connection where I felt seen, understood, known, for all my strengths and my weaknesses, my darkest secrets and my weirdest quirks. The other day I read a splendid feminist essay collection by Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, and one line in particular reminded me of what these connections gave to me: “The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.” I do not think that thinking and feeling are mutually exclusive, but in a patriarchal society that prioritizes traditionally masculine traits like rationality and intellect, the compassionate power and empathetic importance of feeling is often undermined. I am so grateful for all of these connections: to L, for giving me the space to feel my anger and my shame, for my grandmother, for holding me as I felt my mother’s abuse rain down on me, and for my close friends and mentors, for not just caring about my productivity but for prioritizing my feelings, above and beyond my work. As Gail Caldwell writes, each of these connections, even if they are no longer physically present, are all a part of me, and I hope to embody and put forth the same kindness and gentleness I have lost and received.
I feel like I will always be learning lessons in grief. There is no end to this pain, only ways of coping with it, honoring it, and letting the compassion from these connections live on through my own choices and actions. I struggled my first two years of undergrad, and I am struggling now: a new city and social environment, a new set of pressures associated with grad school, and a new set of losses to hold and to feel. But I have hope, because my grandmother, L, my friends and my mentors all came into my life amidst or right after times of great pain. I feel hopeful, and curious, to see what new connections and losses await.
I feel grateful for the readers who have made this blog such a wonderful space for self-expression and connection, as well as the friends, new and old, who have stuck with me through this grief process. Would be curious to hear any thoughts on grief, feelings, loss, etc. you may have. Until next time!