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Why Grief Can’t Be Rushed

by PATTI DAVIS

I got the news in the evening – a friend of 35 years had died suddenly, unexpectedly. He was on a vacation and I was supposed to see him in a few days when he returned. I watched as if removed from my own inner landscape, while shock moved in like an ice storm. I’ve been here before, I thought at one point – I have to let this settle in me and trust in grief’s timetable. I could feel tears gathering somewhere deep inside me, but not a single tear fell that night. The next day, all I wanted to do was cry. Tears pressed against my eyes and, when I was alone, took over, wracking me with sobs.

Grief always moves at its own pace. Hopefully, we learn, as we go through it again and again, to have faith that it will carry us across the river to the other side. We won’t drown in its waters, although sometimes it will feel like we are.

Our grief is always a bit different depending on who we have lost. The loss of friends is different from the loss of parents. I think there is a part of us that assumes our friends will travel alongside us all our lives; we can’t imagine them not being here, even though we know that life is unpredictable, and death comes when it’s someone’s time to go. But it still seems unbelievable. With parents, age and the cycle of life places our grief a little closer to acceptance right from the start. It’s as if, somewhere in us, we had prepared for those tears. Losing a child upends the very order of life; it’s not supposed to happen. Our children are supposed to outlive us. The heartbreak of losing a child shatters the earth.

The one constant in grief is that it will move at its own pace, and it simply asks us to surrender to that. Fighting against it, trying to push it away, or trying to speed it up, won’t work. Denying it or abbreviating it just means it will have to come find you later. We’re meant to grieve over those we love and care about, completely and thoroughly. It’s not negotiable. And grief is one of our best teachers. It gives us insight into our heart’s capacity to love, and it challenges us to sort through our memories, forgive the difficult times, and be grateful for the times of laughter and easiness. It asks us to respect the mystery of death while honoring the miracle of life.

Each time we lose someone, we find ourselves standing at the same riverbank, wondering if we’ll be able to cross, even though we’ve made the journey before. At this point in my life, I’ve come to imagine grief as a kind friend holding out a hand and saying, “Come, we’ll reach the other side together.”

PATTI DAVIS

Patti Davis is the author of 12 books, including the new book “The Wrong Side of Night.” She is the daughter of President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.

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