Choosing Grief to Save Yourself

Every once in a while, an article pops up on your social media feed that stops you in your tracks. That happened to me today.

It was an article on Elephant Journal called “I Grieved the Loss of a Parent Who is Still Living” and the headline grabbed me immediately.

In 2006, I made the excruciating and difficult choice of choosing to let go of a relationship with my father after it became clear that it would always be doing more harm than good. For years after that, I lived with this strange feeling of loss that I couldn’t share because I didn’t truly understand it. Even though my father was (and still is as far as I know) very much alive, breaking all ties — while absolutely the right choice — triggered a form of grief that has taken many, many years to fully acknowledge and ease.

There was no funeral, no final good-bye, no closure. Just a decision that I knew was best for me after I’d exhausted all other options to preserve the relationship. After the death of a loved one, you have no choice but to heal – death is final. But to experience and subsequently live with the pain of losing a parent, knowing that person is still out there in the world, is a type of grief that is confusing and indescribable.

My father was not gone and every day I lived with the knowledge that I chose this grief. And in order to do what was best for me, I had to continue to choose that grief every single day.

To sit with this pain of losing a parent who is not dead, while simultaneously carrying the knowledge that you could end that pain by simply reversing your decision, is the most deeply conflicted I’ve ever been in my life. And I carried that feeling with me every moment of every day for more than a decade.

However, the most difficult experiences of life – the times when we’re forced to stand up for ourselves and hold that ground, no matter the cost – are the ones that change who we are in the most profound ways. Through that process of making this unbelievably difficult choice, I learned that I have the strength to walk away from anyone when it’s the right thing to do for me.

The decisions we make in this life are not always easy. Doing the right thing can be absolutely gut-wrenching. Many times since then, I’ve been in a position to make tough choices – faced with the task of choosing between what is right and what is easy. I’ve had to choose between loving myself and a person that I love. The decision never gets easier or less painful. But I now know that I have the power to do it, to endure it, to heal from it, and to draw greater strength and resilience from it.

No one — regardless of their biological connection — has the right to spend a lifetime mistreating you. And you don’t have to stick around for people you care about as your soul is ripped to into pieces. Choosing grief for yourself over enduring the pain inflicted on you by others is a long, lonely, and difficult road — but if you walk it, it will lead you to someplace far more empowered.

In the end, your happiness and survival are not tied to or solely dependent upon the presence of any other person in your life. The only person you truly need is you. As long as you have yourself, everything will be okay.

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