Living with grief isn’t a linear path
According to Wikipedia, “a Möbius strip can be created by taking a paper strip and giving it a half-twist, and then joining the ends of the strip to form a loop. . . . If an ant were to crawl along the length of this strip, it would return to its starting point having traversed the entire length of the strip (on both sides of the original paper) without ever crossing an edge.”
When we lose someone or something significant, and we all eventually do, people tell us we should move on, and we do—but not like they want us to. Our grief constantly runs in the background like the location on our phone, always pinpointing us, using up the battery and data space. We’re on the Möbius strip of life, missing that person. Forever. We keep moving along in our own way and in our own time, doing the best we can, and then . . .
We’re back at the beginning. Except the beginning moved. It’s not in the same place but may feel just as hard as it did the first time—but a different “hard.” In any given moment, we are grieving. It’s part of us now, this grief, as much a part of us as our phones or our limbs.
The speed with which we travel on this Möbius strip is fluid. Sometimes we crawl along by inches, and our viewpoint barely changes. Sometimes we fly around the strip quickly, experiencing highs and lows in an hour or a day. Sometimes a season of the year will be spent on the underside of the Möbius strip, or a significant date comes up on our calendar and down we go to the underside.
Eventually, every moment isn’t hard. But initially? It’s brutal—brutal. All the “firsts” in our unrequested, redecorated “life place.” All the furnishings moved without our opinion or our permission. Nobody asked us what we wanted to get rid of or send to storage. It just happened. Something disappeared, and someone is missing. Everywhere is just off—way off. We adjust to this new room arrangement because we have to learn to get used to it.
But we always have choices. We could stick our feet into wet denial concrete and let it harden. We could decide to be the victim of our unfortunate circumstance, wearing it proudly as a badge of definition. But that really hurts us only in the short and long run and keeps us stuck.
Grief denied comes out the side and will spew all over everything. It demands our attention. Denying our pain and stuffing it is fake and small and harmful. Becoming a victim, too, makes us fake and small and harmful.
So we adapt. We work nonstop, consciously and unconsciously to integrate this new view. Traveling the grief Möbius strip. Re-creating a future missing someone or something. Accepting that everything we thought we knew is different now. Trying desperately to hold our breath under the grief water but still trying to be part of dry land.
It takes time to acclimate to our new, straddled world. We can’t swim to the surface from 50 feet below quickly, or we get the bends. The bends can kill us. We have to do it gradually, allowing our bodies to get used to the pressure change of switching worlds from under to above. Surfacing slowly is a vital part of deep diving. We can’t just skip over it because we don’t have time or because it’s hard and ugly and inconvenient. Taking the time to do it now saves us from a larger, more lethal pain then.
We can’t call it in. We have to show up in the process. We have to be present every moment. It is necessary—as necessary as avoiding the bends.
So we navigate this Möbius strip. And just when we think we’re getting somewhere, we end up, once again, at the starting point, or what feels like the starting point. But this time, as we integrate and internalize this new “living room” arrangement, even though we may feel like we’re going backwards, it’s actually a new starting point. This time, we have more energy and less fear because we’ve been here before and we know we can do this. Because we are doing this.
We’ve teetered on the strip’s edge but never crossed it. We’ve been on the side facing down and seen things that broke our hearts with sorrow. We’ve been on the side facing up and seen things that filled our hearts with joy. We’ve sprinted, and we’ve sat. That’s this grief life of ours.
The secret is remembering to look around and see. The secret is trusting that wherever we are, we are just fine. We are doing the very best we can. Every passing day, week, year, and even moment offers a new vantage point and view—no matter where we are on the Möbius strip of grief.
A certified professional life coach and professional singer, Nancy Jo Nelson lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Her nest is emptying, as her daughter, Jillian, lives in the city and attends North Park University. Her son, Sam, still lives at home, along with Winnie the Wonder Mutt and Bolt the Mighty Chihuahua. Her first book, Lessons from the Ledge, is available on Amazon.
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