I recently finished participating in a grief support group, composed mostly of people who, like me, had lost a spouse. I remember the chaplain sharing a story at our very first meeting. He told us of an older widower from a previous group who, at the first opportunity to ask questions, raised his hand and asked in a no-nonsense manner, “How long is this going to take?” The chaplain, not catching his meaning right away, responded very matter of factly, “The group runs for about seven weeks.” “No”, the gentleman clarified, “how long until I start getting over this…the pain?” Instead of offering him some platitude about how time heals all wounds, etc., the chaplain asked him a question of his own. “How long did it take to get over the birth of your first child?” The man answered that he never got over that event. The chaplain replied with an air of sincere wonder, “Why do you think it’s any different – getting over the loss of your wife?” The story ended there, but I imagine it gave the pain-stricken man pause to reflect, as it did me.

Like the man in that group, I too entered this process with an eye toward getting over the pain. I viewed grief as something to be outlasted, as if I could just grit my teeth, hunker down, and wait it out until someone popped the lid off the crucible.  Six months? A year? Two years? How long until I can say “I’ve made it!” Not so, friends, not so.

Which leads to my final group meeting, where the chaplain is sitting back after a woman just finished unburdening herself of something truly painful. He was struck by what she said, responding only to say, “Going through grief is like a dance, isn’t it?” I’m not sure what the others thought of that comparison, but it certainly stayed with me. In fact, both his question to the widower, and his analogy at the end became so closely related in my mind. One doesn’t get over the loss of a loved one. One shouldn’t. For me, life will never again return to “normal”, as if that ever really existed in the first place. Rather, I’m finding that I must go through a process of integrating this loss into my daily life – for the rest of my life. I’m told the pain will lessen, but this dance has no time limit. Just like the emotional undertow I wrote of earlier, grief can show up at any time, tapping you on the shoulder for a dance. Do you engage? Or, do you pretend not to notice – choosing to brush her aside and remain a wallflower? As uncomfortable as it can be, I choose to engage. I say that only because I’ve experienced firsthand the result of not engaging. It turns you toxic inwardly, outwardly, or both. That, and I know that should I live long enough, I’m sure to experience loss again with others that are in my life. Whether faced with my own mortality or that of a loved one, I don’t want to be caught dreamy-eyed and unprepared, not knowing the most basic of steps. So for now, I’ll choose to take the time to remember…and to feel. I’ll choose to bring Alicia up in conversation with others, even if it causes me tinges of sadness. I’ll listen with intent when one of our sons needs me to help them process. I’ll work through the awkwardness of sitting in a counseling room, wondering what on earth I’m supposed to say. I’ll identify myself with others who are getting tapped on the shoulder, hoping I can in some small way act as a beacon to them. Friends, the next time grief comes my way, I want to fix her with a clear-eyed gaze, extending my hand to meet hers, my other hand firmly placed on the small of her back, ready to move around the floor at the first note.

Featured Image: The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano

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10 thoughts on “Ballroom 101

  1. Oh Josh, this brought tears to my eyes as I read each line and embraced the meaning. Expressing your feelings and what you are experiencing now is so healthy. Speaking about Alicia and engaging in conversation with the boys about their mother, as you do, is so very healthy and will help them also dance that dance through life without their mom. Most of us have lost someone and need that time that we talk about that person, and are able to cry and laugh about the memories. I experienced that this summer when my dear friend came to visit and we talked at length and deeply about the loss, that we both felt, when we lost my brother, years ago. The hurt is still there but not as debilitating. Just saying his name and being able to remember him as my brother, and she as his girlfriend brought a certain amount of healing that we both needed. The memories are so very precious. I will say the the hurt never leaves, but the memories become more precious. Hold onto them Josh. We love you Josh and pray for you every day. Diana

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    1. Thank you Di for sharing so openly about your own experience with your brother. I can still sense how much you love him and grieve his loss in your own life. You are so right about the memories becoming more precious with time. I’m finding that I can’t rush them, as much as I would like to. I just have to keep doin’ what I’m doin’, and take the time to slow down to cherish them when I do recover them. Just today, I was driving over an hour to do therapy with a child, and was hit with memories I didn’t know I had. So tender and sweet to experience those. I hope to never lose them. All my love to your beautiful family there in the front range.

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  2. Thank you Josh. I am not a super emotional person and I tend to shy away from those “feelings” but your words always make me feel good. When talking through traumatic events I always avoid if possible, but not when you share. Thank you again for sharing your journey, I can’t imagine what it must be like. I always look forward to hearing about my dear friend, you and the boys.

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    1. Hey Amy, and I always love to hear from you. You were such a special part of Alicia’s life, I always feel like I’m just a bit closer to her when I remember the times she would love to tell me about the two of you. I’m blessed to still have contact with you guys and to keep that link with her alive.

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  3. How deeply our hearts are touched by those we love. As we move through life, the memories we have of them somehow make us richer people in so many ways. Keep remembering. Keep letting Alicia bring out the best in you. Love a fellow journey-er in this thing called life.

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    1. “Keep letting Alicia bring out the best in you.” That’s a beautiful thought Diane, I love it, and have thought of that often since she passed. I’m a better husband, father, friend, and human being from having known her and loved her. Thanks for writing.

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  4. Dear Josh, We don’t know each other, but in a way we do. I spent nearly an hour looking through blogs on grieving until I found yours. I read each one. My husband of 34 years died almost 2 years ago. Your analogy of the dance really touched me. I totally agree with you. I lost my brother many years ago and soon after that we lost our son to cancer. He was 13. I decided a long time ago that I would never apologize for or feel uncomfortable about crying – anywhere or in any circumstance (I lost it once in a Hallmark store). I almost feel like a pro when it comes to grief, but just almost, because each day presents a new dimension of my loss(es). This is my dance and I intend to fully in engage in it. Anyway, I appreciate your words and could take up a lot of space here telling you all the ways I relate. Let me just say thank you for being honest and sharing.

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    1. So nice to meet you Suzanne. I always appreciate it so much any time I hear from someone who has walked this path. There are times when I’ve felt as though I was going crazy, and it has been people just like you that have reassured me that it’s part of the process of losing someone and grieving them. You certainly have some credibility when it comes to engaging in that dance. So true how you mentioned that each day presents a new dimension. Thank you honoring me with your time and your response.

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