By Lisa Sugarman
The beginning of August is always a funky time for me. But probably not for the reasons you’d suspect.
I’ll bet you’re thinking it’s because August marks the official second half of summer and that maybe I’m just a little glum that we’ve only got a few weeks to go before Labor Day. And while that would be a solid, legitimate guess, you’d be wrong. Sorry.
Actually, the beginning of August signifies something altogether different for me.
It was the first of August, in the summer of 1978, that I lost my dad. And even though it’s been thirty-six years, whenever that time rolls around, a part of me goes back to that day when I was ten, back to when everything changed and I lost one of the two most important people in my life. And some of the sadness bubbles up again. Not the same, debilitating kind of sadness that I felt all those decades ago, but a different, more palatable kind that allows my mind to wander back and enjoy my memories.
Now I’m talking about this not just because it’s August again and I’m hyper-aware of that date on the calendar. That’s only part of it. I’m also putting it out there because I’ve realized that, coincidentally, there a few people in my life right now who’ve just lost someone close to them and they’re hurting. A lot. Like a deep cut hurts when it won’t clot. You know, that sharp, acidic kind of pain. And I know they’re not the only ones. And I feel bad. Because I know how that pain feels when it’s fresh.
Look, grief is a bizarre and unpredictable animal. Just when you think you’ve got it tamed and under control, it rears up and bites your arm off. So that’s why you have to proceed with caution and never underestimate its potential. Most importantly, though, you can’t be afraid to look it directly in the eye. Because it’s an animal we all have to face one way or another. But how we face it directly impacts whether or not we’ll be able to co-exist.
The truth is, grief is such a subjective emotion that it really doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a parent or a spouse or a partner or a friend. Grief is relative. It’s raw, unfiltered hurt that feels like it’ll never end. And the stages of grief, while slightly different for everyone, are also more or less the same. The bottom line is, though, that it’s a process. And the point does usually come when we’ve siphoned out most of the acute pain and sadness and we can take comfort and find peace in the beauty of our memories.
Most of us understand that death and dying are necessary and inevitable parts of life. But when we’re in the thick of these periods of deep sadness, it’s almost impossible, regardless of how rational we are, to control the feelings. That’s because grief, just by its very nature, is uncontrollable. But it’s not permanent. At least not the intense kind of grief that we feel in the beginning. And that’s what I think people tend to forget. See, loss is permanent, but sadness and grief are not. They’re stages. And it’s only when we realize it, that we begin to live our lives again.
Not to minimize it, but we have to understand that grief is like an injury, almost no different from a broken bone or a gash. In most cases, time itself will do the healing, but there’s always still a hint of weakness or a scar that marks the wound. But that’s ok. Because, eventually, we’re able run our finger over that scar without feeling pain. Eventually, the severe hurt fades. And that’s because we’ve absorbed the very pain that debilitated us and repurposed it as the memories and love that sustains us.
What I’ve learned is that, with time, even the deepest wounds heal. Because life just has a way of clotting even the worst cuts—even the ones that keep splitting back open and oozing all over us. And the ironic thing is that sometimes it’s gradual and other times you just wake up one morning and the bleeding has stopped and the scab has formed and the healing has begun. Again, it’s different for everyone.
So to anyone who’s lost someone and thinks I’ll never be the same, I say, you’re right. You’ll never be the same. You’ll be different. Better, actually, in some ways, believe it or not. And that’s because, eventually, you’ll start seeing colors again, only now the colors will be a little sharper and deeper and you’ll see clearer. Remember better. Appreciate more. Because don’t forget, different doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse. It just means different. How different, is really up to you.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at Spirit of ’76 Bookstore.