Bear with me now….Grief has been compared to so many things — waves, storms, shipwrecks, ping pong balls — but I’ve never heard it connected to menopause. My brain just does funny things when I’m watching someone have a hot flash…or when I’m experiencing the joys of one myself.
Recently I’ve spent a bit of time with a woman I love who happens to be hot flashing her way through menopause. She can’t get through a day or sleep through a night without multiple hot flashes. Maybe you know the kind. Toes to nose heat. Full body sweats. Flushing. Discomfort. Embarrassment in public. Not fun. Really – REALLY – not fun.
Because I’m a grief counselor, everything relates in some way to grief and loss in my mind. As I watched her flash, it occurred to me that there are, indeed, parallels to a grief journey. Here are my 4 A’s connecting the two:
Assault. You have no control over when it begins. Menopause just starts when it starts. Your grief starts when it starts – when you lose someone or something you love. There it is in all its…glory?…somehow that doesn’t fit…in all its nastiness? confusion? intrusiveness? The symptoms are involuntary. You are going to experience menopause whether you want to or not — assuming you’re a woman 😉 You are going to experience grief no matter how hard you try to run away from it, avoid it, or repress it. It bubbles up. Trust me. It bubbles up.
Ache. Hot flashes and the other joys of menopause occur whenever they darn well please. It’s the same with grief ‘attacks’. Triggers pop up. Sometimes you can see them coming. Sometimes they ambush you and overwhelm you – toes to nose – and there is no stopping it. It doesn’t matter if you are in the middle of a grocery store or in the privacy of your own home. It hurts. It intrudes. It’s complicated and confusing and painful and we just want it to go away.
Adjustment. This life becomes your new life. Your adjusted life. What was before is no longer the same. It is different now. Life has unalterably changed. In menopause, it feels like a betrayal of your body. The way that it functioned. The way you could depend on it. The way you viewed it. Now it is acting with a mind of its own. The same for grief. It definitely has a personality. It has a life of its own. Its own emotions. Its own reactions – sometimes at the least convenient times. It is always with you. Always present. And you learn to live with it. Both of them. They become your companions. Your -as my daughter in law says – second pair of underwear. Over time you learn ways to cope. The woman I love carries around a little plastic portable fan. She sleeps with the air conditioning on full blast AND a fan…and sometimes those are not enough. She’s tried a lot of remedies, some Western, some non-traditional. None helped. Coping with grief is much the same way. We are all so individual, so unique, that what works for one may not work for another. In fact, I’m not sure anything “works”. There is nothing anyone can say or do that will remove the pain of grief. But I will offer these as nearly universal coping tools: 1. find at least one person with whom you can talk openly and honestly. Someone who will not judge you or try to talk you out of your grief. Someone who will enter into your space and love you through the worst of the pain. 2. Allow yourself to sit in the pain. It hurts. Avoidance is counter-productive. Lean into it. Identify it. Feel it. Experience it. And then breathe it out and move onto the next thing.
Attitude. Both menopause and grief are facts of life. There is no escaping them. But we don’t have to be destroyed by them. Facing either head on, head up, eyes and hearts open can be incredibly empowering. Embracing our changes, our lessons, our uniqueness, our flashes, our triggers, in the face of them, is what helps us to grow. Eventually we develop more compassion for others who are experiencing what we have experienced. A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved. I’m not saying that smiling, or talking, or thinking positive is the solution to either one. I’m saying that there is growth and empowerment and, even, meaning in the struggle. We are changing. We are growing. We are becoming. How and where and who is up to us.
As always, if you’d like to make an appointment to discuss your journey, please email or call me. I offer a free consultation to see if we are a good fit.