(Another great guest post by Corey Rotella!)
The Oxford dictionary defines grief as a deep sorrow, especially that which is caused by someone’s death. Taken at face value, that’s an effective enough definition…but does it really encompass how we humans deal with loss? Do we simply feel sorrow and do we really only know loss when it is at the level of death?
Of course not. My years working in long term care have taught me how to accept death as the natural end to life. This is not to say that I don’t feel pain or anger or loss. I just don’t rail against it. Being a woman in recovery has shown me that there are far more difficult and painful situations to fear than death itself.
For me, grief is a nuanced and complex reaction to change of any kind. I came to this realization this year, when I have faced so many dramatic and sudden shifts in my life. Despite most of them being overwhelmingly positive, they all involved a loss of some kind…a loss of an idea, preconceived notion or simply familiarity of routine.
After walking for eight years, I got a car. Fantastic, right? But my mind went into overdrive. Suddenly, I had a world of options that were not previously open to me. What if I chose wrong? What if I became lazy? After nearly a decade on foot, my life was changing in an instant. It meant the loss of what was familiar and that caused me some pain, though I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time. I only knew that I felt vaguely anxious and a little sad. It was only in hindsight that I realized that I was grieving the end of life as I knew it.
That’s the key. Life as we know it ends any time change is introduced. I was offered a better paying job in my field. It was private care and, in theory anyway, involved far less stress and physical strain. WINNING!…except after eight years of experience in the same facility, the amount of heartbreak I felt over leaving my residents and co-workers was far greater than my excitement of a new opportunity. I couldn’t understand my loss of appetite or level of stress over what should have been an exciting new chapter in my life.
Until I recognized that these feelings stemmed from a sense of grief, I was unable to employ the appropriate coping skills that I’ve learned over the years. All these changes were positive, so it made no sense to me that I would be feeling restless, discontent, anxious and sad. It was only through realizing that grief is not always wearing black and weeping at a funeral that I was able to put down the Ben and Jerry’s, accept what I was feeling and take the necessary actions to move forward and grow into my new life.
Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s a collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: a Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care
She also writes commentary about her life experiences on her personal blog Chasing Wonderland https://howdoyoueatanelaphant.wordpress.com/