I am all packed up and moving out of my life. For the past 2 weeks I have been packing up my former marital residence. I have been digging into every corner and closet, uncovering clutter and along with it, hundreds of memories. I located the sticky note my former husband gave me with his phone number (yes, before the days when we could simply bump iPhones). I found every wedding receipt and to-do list. I found the journal I kept when we were expecting our first daughter and cards we exchanged over the years. I found all the heartbreak renewed as I was reminded of all those hopes, now lost.
As I shed tears, yes, even over a year after we separated households, I am reminded that grieving is not a straight line. And unfortunately, it is not something I can check off of my current to-do list and simply be done with. Grieving is complex and shows up unexpectedly, often without notice. And even with advance warning such as my law partner, Susan, just crossing the milestone of what would have been her 15th wedding anniversary, had John not died last September, or my paralegal, Lori, just losing her father on Mother’s Day, forever now marking Mother’s Day as a sad anniversary, the advance notice does little to really prepare us for the uncontrollable sadness that engulfs our hearts.
I have learned in my own process and in supporting clients through divorce, that grief is not something to be ignored. It is critical to feel your feelings and to work through them rather than ignore them. And trust me, during a divorce, the actual to-do list is so long, it is fairly easy to postpone your feelings.
My Coach taught me a skill years ago when I would take the worries of my client cases home with me and fret about them all night. She taught me to set aside time to address the worry or the anxiety-producing task. To mentally acknowledge, or even write down specifically when I would give myself all the time I needed to think about the problem. So my bedside list would read something like “Think about Client X evidentiary problem tomorrow at 10 a.m.” And as soon as I released it, knowing that I would attend to it, the stress dissipated and I was able to sleep soundly.
This advice, I found, also applies to working through feelings. In all of the chaos of packing up an entire 3,000 square foot home by myself, I used this skill. I set out times that I would go through “memory” producing boxes or items and I would give myself more time. I took the time to really go through and honor those memories and all of the feelings attached and I would be prepared and have my tissue handy. I was gentle with myself and not set my feelings aside – but gave myself the space to work through them. And eventually, just maybe, if I keep moving through those feelings, my box will no longer read: Fragile, Handle with Care.