When you love something you assume it’ll be around forever.
You forget that change (and, therefore, loss) is inevitable. It’s called wishful thinking. And it comes from a place of love, but mostly fear.
So when that tragic day finally arrives– when the person, object or activity that once gave you so much comfort and joy is ripped away from your life– you feel utterly destroyed and completely unprepared.
Take my favorite pair of jeans, for example.
I should start by saying I look terrible in clothes. Not that I look amazing naked either. But because of my size and body shape (short and broad with a thick waist and a pancake ass– womp, womp!), it’s nearly impossible to find clothes that hit all the marks: comfortable, stylish and flattering.
Which is why I’ve only got one pair of jeans that I actually like. Since 2004 I’ve worn them at least twice a week. (I’m like a dude in that way.)
For years I had been ignoring signs that my jeans were coming to the end of their lifespan. Their once deep blue color had faded, and there were holes forming in the inner thigh areas (because mine are chubby and rub together when I walk. Sigh.).
So last weekend I whipped out a pair of scissors and performed denim surgery. Say hello to my new pair of shorts:
Whether it’s a break-up, an actual death, the end of a career, the deterioration of your health, or your adult child flying out of the nest, the elements of grief are the same: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. They’re experienced differently by each grieving person, and the only thing I can guarantee is that they’re messy, unpredictable, and more complex than the neatly packaged “5 Stages of Grief” make them out to be.
Hell yeah, I grieved over my favorite pair of jeans. We’ve been through so much together– I’ve photographed wild African elephants in those pants; I wore them to all ten John Mayer concerts I’ve been to; and I fell in love with those jeans long before I even met and fell in love with my husband. I’m not sure if I’ll find a pair quite like them.
But turning my jeans into shorts taught me about the elements of healing as well:
- You can never truly replace something (or someone) you’ve loved and lost. But eventually you discover that you have no choice but to adjust to your “new normal”. As much as I love being at home with no pants on, I HAVE to find another pair to wear– for legal reasons. And you HAVE to build a full life after your loss — for the sake of your overall well-being.
- It helps to form a different relationship with the person you’ve lost after they’re gone. Since you can no longer see them everyday, nor show your love in the same ways you used to, you’ve got to find creative ways to do so. You’ll also need a new way of communicating with this person. You see, loss is not just about loss. It’s about adjustment, reframing, evolution, and finding a new way to experience love. My jeans are no longer my favorite pair of pants; they’re a new pair of shorts. What has the person you’ve lost turned into? (Your invisible source of comfort? Your Great Teacher? Your inspiration for important projects?)
- Your special person or object is irreplaceable, and they fulfilled various emotional and physical needs you had. But fortunately, you can find new ways to have your needs met. New love, new friendships, new jobs, new hobbies (and new PANTS!) can help. At first, these “substitutes” won’t make your life feel better– just different. Distracted at best. In fact, they might make you feel even worse than you already do, because they’ll remind you of what you’ve lost. But eventually, your longing and anguish will turn to fond memories and gratitude. Having unmet needs will stall this transformation, so make sure you tend to them.
In closing, a love letter…
Dear Jeans: Thank you for spending your entire life hugging my curves so perfectly. In your death, you satisfied a different wardrobe need of mine, and somehow managed to teach me some important life lessons too. You’re one of a kind. Rest in Peace.
Your Turn: Have you ever grieved over a special object? What did the process teach you?