Grieving is a full time job.
Holding tears back, sucking feelings in, binding your emotions to prevent the overflow from taking over takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of mental fortitude. It takes courage. It takes time.
I received news today that a friend and mentor in Rochester had passed away unexpectedly in May. My heart dropped when I saw the subject line of the email including the word obituary.
Reading through the obituary text that a thoughtful family member had written almost two months ago now, I was filled with the joy that always exuded from my mentor. The look on her face with excitement of travel, of life. Her gardening club, her workout time at the gym, her photography of distant lands. Her love for salads and disgust for poorly cooked chicken. Her adoration for her husband and commitment to his prosperity and goals.
I just got off overnight call. Maybe I'm exuding a surge of emotion that otherwise would be held at bay in a non-sleep deprived state. Or maybe I'm so used to putting my feelings in this big box and packing them away for my days filled with sick patients, grieving family members, and unexpected health setbacks---to protect myself from feeling too much.
In my mind, I have this giant closet of sadness boxes that are neatly put away on white shelves and organized chronologically. Some have bows. Some are plain. Even patterns and different shapes. There's one box where all the leftovers are poured. You know, the stuff you don't know how to sort so you just shove it in the drawer in the entry way or in the drawer in the nightstand beside your bed. I didn't expect this cluttered and disorganized box to fall out of the closet onto the clean floor, dumping all my raw and pent up emotions out in the open. And I certainly didn't expect to have to clean this up today.
How do you pick up a box of sadness, brush it off, and set it back on the shelf?
How do you organize grief to make sense of the horror and gut-wrenching emotion that is processed over time?
For me right now, my giant sadness box with unorganized clutter remains on the floor, poured out, ready for the world to see. The pile is filled with memories, photos, the occasional memento.
Maybe I should sort it, organize. Clean out the excess and pack away the important things into the new, unused boxes that are left out for exactly this purpose.
Maybe I'll wait for a rainy day when patients and life aren't my main focus--when I can give due diligence and attention to each piece of myself that lays in that pile. Because holding onto these boxes is the only way I can move forward, seeing the past off and wishing it farewell, coming back to the closet only when I want to truly and immensely feel.
M3 at Mayo Clinic School of Medicine