Thankfulness # 2: Our idyllic holiday (when I tried really hard to be thankful)

This is Part 2 of the Thankfulness Mini-series. You can read Part 1 here.

What an amazing blessing this respite holiday was! We were no doubt the envy of other young families at the resort: my husband and I had the luxury of waltzing in for brief visits with our kids before returning to our own activities while the grandparents watched them.

It was a lovely opportunity for us to revive our weary spirits, and we were both truly grateful for my parents-in-law’s kindness! The weather was warm and sunny. The hotel room was pleasant and there was even a lovely, enormous spa bath for me to relax in.

Despite all this, I spent much of that week feeling gloomy, and I couldn’t work out why. I didn’t feel depressed — I wasn’t lacking in drive; I wasn’t filled with self-loathing. I had activities to occupy my mind, which brought me a sense of purpose and joy within the confines of our lovely spacious, sunlight-drenched suite. I was able to venture outdoors for short periods before returning to bed, and I soaked in every ray of sun I could while out.

I just couldn’t kick this feeling of heaviness. It wouldn’t go away, no matter how many things I found to be thankful for. How confusing!

What’s wrong with me?!

After returning home, I booked a session with my counsellor to unravel this knot of conflicting emotions. I told her what a lovely time we’d had. I expressed how wonderful it felt to see my husband with a fully charged emotional battery for the first time in years.

Then I described the sense of loss that I just couldn’t seem to kick: it felt like I was grieving.

“But I thought I’d finished grieving!” I spat out the words, exasperated. “Why is it hitting me now?!”

She responded with a lesson on grief: “Grief is not linear; it’s cyclical.” Here are two graphics I’ve created to show what she taught me.

Grief is not linear.


Grief is cyclical.

And here’s my non-scientific paraphrase:

After our initial loss (in the middle of the circle) we’re consumed by grief. It feels like we’re drowning in sadness. Looking back hurts; looking to the future is terrifying, and we feel trapped in a messy, dim bubble of pain.

Over time, we emerge from our bubble. We feel wobbly and shaken but we make our first tentative steps towards our “new” life without the person/thing we’ve lost.

Eventually, we start to have more clear days than drowning days. Life goes on. It feels like maybe we’re finally “getting over it” — phew! The messy, dim bubble of grief fades for a while.

But then it comes back again, usually when something triggers it, e.g. a special place or memory.

Moving out from the big blob of loss in the middle, there are layers of time — imagine a spiral winding outward from the centre. Over the years:

  • the gaps between the grief blobs may get bigger (thank God!), and
  • each grief blob will generally get smaller.

In other words, the grief attacks won’t feel as overwhelming as they did in that first year or two.

See those tiny dots on the outer rings? Grief is still cropping up from time to time. We may get little pangs of grief many, many years after our loss, and that’s totally normal. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed to grieve “properly”!

Read the rest of my story here:

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