Many people have asked me over the course of the last week or so, "Is her birthday this year easier than last year?" It's a really hard question to answer. The short answer is "Not really". Here's the long answer:
Like I said in her birthday post, people seem to think that life - and greif - is a linear progression. There is a mistaken belief that the further out you get from your loss, the easier it gets to handle. That is simply untrue. It doesn't get easier. The pain doesn't dull. The heartache doesn't hurt less. The emptiness left behind doesn't fill. Grief doesn't change on its own - YOU change, and as a result, you learn how to adapt to what grief throws at you.
I have compared grief to an ocean, and I still think that is pretty accurate. When you are first thrown in, you don't know how to swim at all. The waves toss you like a rag doll. Your lungs fill with icy salt water, and you feel like you are suffocating. Your feet can't find the bottom and you can't stay afloat. You are exhausted from just trying to breathe, and there are days you honestly feel like you are going to die. Yet, somehow, you don't. Somehow, you learn how to move your arms and legs in a sort of rhythm that helps you first tread water and then actually begin to swim. Your muscles becomed toned and stronger, and they are able to keep you moving through the water even on the stormiest of days. The ocean hasn't become shallower. The waves haven't become less choppy. You have just learned to swim.
Sometimes, even after learning how to navigate the waters of grief, you still get tired. Your arms and legs ache from constantly pulling yourself through the waves. Some days, you feel so weak, your swimming skills do you no good. Approaching holidays and birthdays are a major cause of weakness. You can be a strong swimmer with an effortless stroke, but as a milestone approaches, you suddenly lose the ability to swim. Your rhythm is thrown off and you realize how hard you've been working just to keep moving. It's so easy to spin out of control - to lose yourself in the churning water. Sometimes, it doesn't even take a major date to make you falter. Sometimes, your muscles give out because you saw a child at the mall who reminds you of your daughter. Sometimes, your head slips below the water because you notice a Pinterest pin that includes her initials, or you hear a certain song on the radio, or you see a rerun of a TV show you watched while you were pregnant. Sometimes, you just simply forget how to swim for no reason at all. Sometimes, your heart catches in your chest just right and you sink like a stone simply...because. The Ocean of Grief has no pattern. It is chaotic and frightening. You just have to do your best each and every day to stay afloat and, if you're lucky, to actually swim through it.
To those of you on the shore, I might make this look like it's getting easier for me. I keep my head up. My strokes have become long and lean. I am making "progress", which to you is swimming more and sinking less, but really, there is no "progress". There is only today. Today, I am swimming, but tomorrow, I may be sinking. I might swim successfully for weeks, and then sink for days. I might swim for 5 minutes and sink for an hour. I really never know how each moment is going to be until I am in it. Understanding that is the biggest key to understanding grief. It doesn't get better or easier. I just become more skilled at nagivating the waves, and so I can do it for longer periods of time without drowning, but that doesn't make it easy.
So, no, this year is not easier than last year. Next year won't be easier than this year. It's never easy.