If you missed the Introduction to this 12-part blog series, here’s a quick run down. In February 2016, my beloved horse Jove died. He was my best friend and my teacher, and he helped change many people’s lives. To honor his memory and teachings, I am writing this series, Lessons from Jove. You can read the introduction to the series here.
You know that feeling when you’re hit by a wave of emotion and your eyes well up with tears? That lump in your throat? All too often in our culture, we’re taught to choke it back. And it hurts. It’s actually physically painful to push those feelings down.
I have spent much of my life believing that being strong means being without emotions. Or at least just not ever displaying them. My dad always used to say, “Keep on an even-keel.” And though I can think of times when he was anything but “even-keel”, I always saw him as the epitome of strength. It was something I admired so much about him.
Back in 2001 when my dad died, I spent a long time not letting myself feel anything. I had many reasons for repressing my emotions. I believed I needed to “be strong” for my mom and sister. I felt angry with him for dying, but then I felt guilty about feeling that way… so I just quashed that whole series of emotions at once. And I also repressed my feelings because it didn’t feel safe to feel them.
Every time I would start to cry, I was afraid my emotions would overwhelm me. It felt like, “Oh, God. I can’t go there. I can’t lose control or I’ll go down a deep, dark tunnel of despair, and end up in a bottomless pit I’ll never get out of. And then I’ll die.”
Dramatic, right? But that’s how my mind was processing it.
There’s a Dave Matthew’s Band song called “Grey Street” that defines that period of my life. I felt nothing. Totally numb. I wasn’t feeling the lows, but the flip side of repressing my emotions was that I wasn’t feeling any of the highs, either. I wasn’t connecting with anyone. Everything was monotone and dull. The irony is, my father’s death left me feeling lifeless.
This last month, April 2016, was intense. It was both the anniversary of when I brought my horse, Jove, home to Asheville, and Jove’s birthday. I also volunteered at a horse show, which was a powerful reminder of Jove’s absence. I had tears in my eyes a lot that day. And I felt especially raw when I learned that one of the riders hit her horse four or five times after he refused a jump. All I could think to myself was, “What? Why does someone who would do that to their horse, still get to have a horse?”
I know it’s totally irrational, but that’s how I felt. I was angry about her behavior and the fuckedupedness of the situation. But even more, I was angry that Jove was dead.
When I got home, I fell apart. Being at the horse show was harder than I expected it to be. But thankfully, I have a husband who is incredibly supportive, allowing me to grieve in whatever way I need to, without trying to “fix” me. (That’s a story for another blog.)
Jove taught me many things in his lifetime, but one of the things I’m learning from him now is how to grieve. He’s teaching me that surrendering to my intense emotions isn’t weak. And that “being strong” is grieving. So I’ve been letting myself actually show my feelings instead of choking them back.
Jove’s energy always felt similar to my dad’s. They had the same proud, wise, quiet yet dominant aura about them. So, in true Jove fashion, he’s giving me an opportunity to “do” the grieving process over again in a way that allows me to grow instead of shrink. Perhaps Jove is reaching across the veil and advising, “Now you get to be present, and stay present, no matter what.”
This is such a powerful thing that, even if I wanted to try and glide over, I couldn’t. Here’s what I found when I let myself “go there”.
Surrendering to my grief has brought a lot of unexpected benefits.
- Relief and physical well-being. Letting myself fully surrender to every wave of grief that washes over me actually leads to relief, not greater amounts of despair. Crying is one of our body’s ways of physically removing the toxins (hormones) that build up whenever we are stressed. If we don’t allow our tears to flow, we keep those detrimental vibes swirling around and ultimately we get sick. The importance of getting that out of our system cannot be overstated. Even if in the middle of it you’re thinking “Woah! This is crazy! How am I still feeling so intense about this?!”, a good sob-fest leaves you feeling lighter, happier, and more optimistic.
- Feeling closer to those I love. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, grieving helps dispel the fog of sorrow and allows us to connect with the person we love. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing that the fog is there. It’s a way to buffer, or regulate, the profound sadness we feel when we lose someone.. But we don’t want it to stay there forever. The fog will naturally dissipate as we grieve and process what we feel, which is what allows us to then connect even more deeply to the one we love and miss, across the veil of reality. The more I let myself feel, when grieving Jove, the more connected I feel to spirit—both my own and Jove’s, and even my father’s.
- Deepening my identity. So much of who we think we are is often wrapped up in outside circumstances—labels, like mother, wife, daughter, and “horse-person”. But death, and the subsequent grieving process, breaks up crystallized visions of the way we thought things were going to be, and who we thought we were, and allows us to open to being even more. It gives us the opportunity to explore the roles we play in our lives and understand them even more deeply, as long as we give in to the process.
- Connecting more authentically. Since Jove died, I’ve dissolved into tears more times than I can count — at the grocery store, in the parking lot, or anywhere I’ve bumped into a friend or acquaintance. It led to a lot of socially awkward interactions—like the time in the frozen food section when I had to comfort someone else for bringing up what made me cry. But ultimately, my very public break-down moments allowed me to have much deeper and more open relationships with people. And perhaps it indirectly gave others permission to express their emotions too. I dream of a world where everyone can be honest and open about how they feel instead of sharing only the surface-level social niceties.
- Live “In Living Color”. Giving into my grief has allowed me to turn my life from one long “Grey Street” into one of living color. And that requires experiencing all the different facets of grief, not just the crying. Grieving can look very different, moment to moment. It includes a full spectrum of human emotions, like anger, guilt, doubt, or even relief. Accepting all the different emotional states that go along with grief gives you the opportunity to make everything feel more. More meaningful. More real. More loving. More exciting. More fulfilling. If we don’t grieve, we don’t get to really connect with that “moreness.”
I recently got a message from Jove (through an animal communicator) that it is as important to grieve as it is to move on. He wants me (and you) to know that “moving on” doesn’t mean short-changing your grieving process. You have to fully experience the grief in order to move on. And from that place, you can love your dearly departed ones from a new place in your heart, and think of them with smiles in a way that honors their lives, instead of dwelling on their absence.
I’m still mourning, and so I’m still learning… And I want to hear from you. In the comments section below, please share your thoughts on these questions: What’s the most recent loss you’ve experienced in your life? What keeps you from grieving fully?