"Did you process your grief?" my therapist asked me. She wasn't referring to the obvious grief. She was referring to the grief underneath the surface, from three years ago. The grief that seemed so much longer ago, the grief that didn't seem necessary at the time. "No, I actually don't think I really did," I said. "I didn't realize at that time everything I was losing and now, I see it. And part of me wants to get it back."
This was a conversation that took place in my most recent therapy session. I was in a romantic relationship for 8 years that ended in 2017. Most of us have at least one significant relationship in our 20s and this relationship had been mine - we were together for most of my 20s. I thought he would be the man I married, but it became more and more clear as time went on that our relationship was declining. I ended the relationship in early 2017 and started dating the man who would become my husband shortly after. Sometimes with grief, we see the end coming. For example, we see it coming when an elderly family member isn't doing well for a number of months. Though their death brings us sadness, it does not bring shock; unfortunately, we saw it coming. I saw the demise of my relationship on the horizon for about 6 months before I ended it. I had 6 months to think about what to do and to prepare myself for the end. It was grief that I felt while we were still together. I felt ready for the relationship to be over and ready to date again almost immediately.
3 years passed and I did not see my ex once. I moved 30 minutes away from our hometown to live with my husband and got married. I rarely thought about my ex or the relationship we shared; it felt like much more than 3 years had gone by. And then he died unexpectedly in mid-December, just a few weeks ago. Cue the shock that had not been there when our relationship ended. Cue the grief for this person who had taken up 1/3 of my life. Cue messages with people who I had not spoken to in years because they were his friends and I didn't know if it was okay to still be in touch with them. Cue...everything.
And as I did my most recent therapy session, my therapist pin-pointed something really important. Naturally, I was grieving now (the obvious grief), but maybe I hadn't really allowed myself to grieve as much then, 3 years ago, as I needed to. I didn't really process my grief at that time. There are things in life where we slam the door shut behind us and swear we'll never look back because it was too hard or too painful. This mentality may serve us for a time but rarely does it serve us forever. I didn't think at the time when our relationship ended how much I would miss his friends who had become my friends, too. I didn't think about how it would feel to not do some of the things that we once did together. I was too busy trying to close this chapter of my life to pause and actually think about the sadness that comes when we leave years of memories behind, good or bad.
As we move through stages of our life, people, places, and things fall to the wayside. We either lose touch on accident or we intentionally say goodbye because it's in our best interest at the time. We keep moving ahead and we're told that it's best to not look back. But if we don't look back every once in awhile, we aren't allowing ourselves to grieve. These past few weeks, I've looked back and started to appreciate freshly how much of that time of my life with him was good. And for me, grieving means integrating. Grieving means getting curious about how my past can mingle with my present every once in awhile. Grieving means finding joy in re-visiting people and places I had lost. If you can sense within yourself that you have some unprocessed grief in your life, there's no better time to start than now to process it.
Journal about it.
Talk about it.
And I hope it brings you new healing.