I got the called that my grandfather passed away. I rushed home to Georgia, but the time between the call and me being with my family was difficult. I felt the waves of emotions, which were seemingly unending. I still feel the surrealness, as I spend time with my relatives in a home that seems to have my Granddaddy hiding on the front porch or backyard. Grief is a crazy thing; it never presents itself the way you’d expect.

When talking to other people about losing loved ones, I always expected this to go a different way: general panic at the phone call, fainting, numbness. I’m experiencing first hand that grief doesn’t look like what I planned. That’s fine. Except now I don’t have a guide to take care of myself in the process of grieving. As I look back over the night, I see areas where grief had the potential to overwhelm me and all the progress I’ve made in my emotional health. The idea of balancing my sadness and self-care seems like an oxymoron.

During one of my first therapy sessions, I learned that to experience the joys and positive feelings of life it’s necessary, almost essential, to feel and experience the mourning and sadness of life. This was easy to hear then because my life seemed drenched in heartache. That realization allowed me to embrace the sadness, accept its normalcy in my life. Fast forward to present day; I’m struggling with the idea of embracing the pain of someone being ripped from my life. Hoards of emotions, good and bad, flood my brain and bring me to the verge of collapse. My gut response is to clench my whole body, brace for the impact of such a loss, and hope that it doesn’t level me. But how and why do I respond that way?

As much as I fight against it, I know there is a fine line between grief and self-care. The moment I allow myself to feel the sting of loss, I open myself up to the black hole most people fall into when experiencing grief. Grief, in and of itself, is a necessary process. Five stages that must be completed to move entirely on from a traumatic event include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Left unchecked it can be easy to get stuck in the stages of grief, experiencing them simultaneously while never finding finality to it all. Pain becomes all encompassing, pulling you into a life full of a void, with no means to escape. Grief, to someone fighting for self-care, seems to risk all progress.

I’m learning that to experience pain I must be willing to experience it. My body’s reaction to not feel is programmed into me to avoid the bad things of life but doesn’t benefit me in the long run. I have to allow acceptance to come. I already can’t wrap my mind around the idea that this is real; it seems like a dream.  I will get angry. There will be depression and even some bargaining. But through all that, there will come acceptance. Trusting the process of grief is self-care. Trusting my emotions to feel what comes naturally to them is the best way for me to learn to trust myself. Grief has a form, but no set format. It’s vital to allow pain to come.