Grief is hard and I’m only twenty-three so honestly I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of experiencing and understanding it.
But here is what I know so far; C.S. Lewis said “Love makes us vulnerable to grief”. When we experience grief it is because of a loss of love. A life or relationship ending.
Grief is hard. I cannot pretend that it is not extremely difficult. But my perspective on it is that if you want to avoid grief you need to avoid love. You can’t be vulnerable. You can’t fully experience joy. If you don’t want to risk getting hurt you don’t have to – but you limit the love you feel.
Brené Brown, my personal queen, has a TED Talk about the price we pay when we aren’t willing to be vulnerable. We miss out on a life fully lived. In the talk she says;
“If vulnerability is a sharp edge there may be nothing sharper than joy. To let yourself soften into loving someone, to caring about something passionately, thats vulnerable. … There is a guarantee that no one talks about that and that is if we don’t allow ourselves to experience joy and love we will definitely miss out on filling our reservoir with what we need in those hard things happen.”
I get this rush sometimes when I do things a little out of my comfort zone. I open myself up a bit and feel like “Yes! This is it. I’m doing the thing. I’m living life fearlessly”.
In hard times is easy to feel out of sorts and confused while looking for answers. Looking for an easy way out rather than being stuck sitting with this feeling. If you are sitting on the shore of grief, experiencing the waves, wondering when it will stop being hard – well truthfully I don’t know. But you don’t need to rush through feeling grief, I’m not sure we even can if we want to.
But, I do know it is okay to be sad and honour the significant joy, love and vulnerability that comes from a life fully lived. You followed your heart and said what you needed to say and left it all on the dance floor – or something like that.
The grief we go through is a reflection of a life well lived. A life vulnerable to love. It might be hard, but I consider that the good kind of grief.
We hear so many things about how getting older sucks. About how things are easier when we are young and jokes that it’s a trap that we have to grow up and face responsibility. Yes, ‘adulting’ is hard. All the levels of paying rent and your phone and having to remember to do the dishes and take out the trash.
But it’s not all bad. There are things about growing up that are actually pretty good. For instance, you never have to live through high school again. You’ll never have acne and braces and painfully frizzy hair you haven’t learned to tame yet again.
Can I get an amen?
It can definitely be cathartic to lament over the struggles of adulthood and responsibility. Meal prepping?? Having to go to bed at a reasonable hour to function because you’re not 18 anymore and you have a nine to five job and 4am isn’t an acceptable time to let your head hit the pillow on weeknights?? The painful truth that your metabolism isn’t what it once was?? Don’t get me started on aches and pains.
I put out a survey on my instagram story the other day to hear what people think the worst part of getting older are, and some of the responses included;
- “Student loans. Loss of child-like wonder. Becoming jaded.”
- “Regretting not trying something”
- “Never ending to do list”
- “Bills/ money stress, body changes the come with age, not understanding current slang”
- “Having to ask off of work/ not being able to just drop everything for a spontaneous holiday”
- “Paying for things myself”
- “Constantly comparing yourself to what other people your age are doing as a way to measure success. Our twenties/ early thirties are so different for everyone, and it’s easy to feel like you’re a failure if you’re not at the same place in life as the people around you”
- “Feeling like you’re not doing the right thing and that you’re in the wrong place”
Reckoning with aging, feeling lost or like you don’t measure up, the responsibility of finances, it’s a lot. Wisdom comes with getting older, but the experiences and trials we learn from can be down right brutal. It can be overwhelming at times, for each of us.
How could this not be awful? Because life isn’t just the hard parts.
Even on the hard days when our struggles seem to outweigh the joys of getting older, I assure you they don’t. Getting older means being blessed with more time on this earth to live life. And life is too short not to take time to celebrate the good things, so today I want to take a moment to celebrate some good things about growing up.
Each day we get to become ourselves more and more. Confidence in yourself as a person grows, in your style choices and trusting your gut. I know I’ve been trying to nurture each of these more and more in my twenties and I look forward to growing my self love and self confidence the older that I get.
This confidence in ourselves and our abilities comes from surviving things that show us we are capable people. Think of the most embarrassing, vulnerable, gut wrenching thing you’ve ever done? You did that and survived. That kind of knowledge makes me so confident in my self to show up and know I can handle situations and put myself in the world and even if I stumble I’ll get right back up and be okay.
I got my heart broken a while back – and I remember having this weird thought “hey this sucks but at least now I understand what John Mayer meant when he wrote my favourite sad songs”. It’s a weird consolation prize, but some of the more difficult experiences that accompany getting older allows us to empathize better and that is a huge silver lining to heartache.
We get to understand human experiences to new levels of depth. We get to do that. That is part of the privilege of growing up and getting older.
Along with that survey about the worst parts of getting older are, I asked about what some of the best parts are;
- “Freedom in the moment to moment to pursue our passions, our loved, our light”
- “More opportunities to travel the world and do rad things with your life”
- “Becoming more self-confident”
- “Independence; to a certain extent, i can do what I want when I want”
- “Making money for traveling”
- ‘You can eat straight out of the Betty Crocker icing tub with nobody to tell you off for it”
- “You have experiences to be grateful for. More stories, more gratitude”
- “Enjoying slow mornings, moments of peace”
- “Ordering pizza whenever I want”
- “Being able to eat cheese and wine and chocolate for dinner”
- “Wisdom and peace of mind”
From my perspective, it simply can’t be repeated enough that you don’t ever have to go back to high school again.
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, or like you wish you could go back to younger carefree days, remember that the trials build confidence in ourselves, the hard days help allow us to empathize, and when all else fails you’re old enough to go to the grocery store and buy yourself a chocolate cake – no questions asked.
Last fall I sent one of my friends a text. It was about something a guy had done to get my attention and I had thought it was cute. But it was also a bit of a lamentation that the smallest amount of effort seemed worth celebrating. I realized the bar was set too low. And I don’t just mean in my dating life, but in so much of my life.
It really got my thinking about raising the bar in the way that allow others to treat me and in how I treat others, because of course you should treat people the way you want to be treated. Cheesy, but true.
Minimal effort was no longer good enough either way.
One of my favourite poets, Tonya Ingram, has a poem that goes;
“You are not hard to love. A mountain does not become small for those who cannot climb.”
I’ve thought about these words a lot in the last few months. The idea of space, of being allowed to claim and take up space is something I talked about a lot in theory during my undergrad, but I hadn’t really taken it to my real life or applied it to my relationships.
The feminist scholar Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, iconically quoted by Beyonce in the song Flawless***, says in her book We Should All Be Feminists
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.”
Now I know this isn’t quite the same thing, but bare with me. Adichie is talking about breaking systemic barriers of sexism, and I’m trying to apply that to my own interpersonal experiences. It’s different, but similar concepts.
I think it’s okay to take up space. I think it is good to know your worth and that you are worthy to take up space. And the people you choose to have in your life should be respectful of you, your boundaries and the expectations you have set about how you want to be treated while you live your authentic life.
“When you know what you deserve red flags become deal breakers” – Hayley Ringo
For me, sometimes this means embracing if I want to be a little extra and not letting people shame me for wanting to take a lot of photos or have really girly girl’s nights. When I talking about raising the bar, I mean that people should let you be your most vivacious self without feeling bad about it. They should let you take up space. They should respect and value your interests, your passions, your ideas and opinions. And most importantly, they should not make you feel like you are hard to love.
My favourite quote from We Should All Be Feminists is;
“I’ve chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be.”
It’s not just femaleness, it’s whatever you identify as you, you deserve respect. You are worthy of that. You are worthy of time. Of patience and time and all those other good qualities. In the season two finale of This Is Us a character said “choosing our people is the closest thing we come to controlling our destiny”, and I think that is really true. So be intentional about choosing people who will show you they care.
Moral: You can take up space. You are not hard to love, you are not too big. You get to ask for what you need. Do not shrink yourself.
If you think this sounds entitled, I’m not saying that you should run around demanding people treat you with respect and then play games with them. This is a two way street, and one of the best ways to set an example of showing people how you want to be treated is to treat others that way.
Set your boundaries, have high expectations, and hold yourself accountable to living up to them. Raising the bar isn’t just about the way others treat you. It’s about you growing to be a better person too. It’s about you treating people the best way you can. If you don’t want people to walk all over you – start by being empathetic, understanding and kind.
Don’t make excuses, take responsibilities for your actions, know your worth and be the best you that you can be.
In the last few weeks at church I’ve been listening to stories about advent. Hearing over and over that anticipation is good. That waiting is good. That patiently finding hope in what is to come is good.
And to be honest that really resonated with me in where I’ve been at in my life lately. December hasn’t just felt like advent. This whole fall has felt like advent. And the waiting game has been hard.
You know in the movie Click, where Adam Sandler skips over parts of his life? I have had many moments where I wished I could just skip to the part where I know what I’m doing. Where I’m not in the middle part of the story full of growing pains and waiting and hoping for what is to come. Where I have a plan and the goals I’m dreaming about and hoping for right now are already accomplished.
But also, I cried like a baby when I watch Click because he skips over his whole life and misses all the important moments and gets to the end wishing he had appreciated the middle bits so much more.
Even though Click is most definitely not a Christmas movie at all, it relates to how I’ve been feeling about Christmas this year. Our lives aren’t about skipping over the anticipation to get to the future. We need to take our time to enjoy the seasons of waiting.
I realized on my way home from the mall the other night that I really was missing the point of Christmas this year. Many of us know the cheesey phrase “reason for the season” but it truly hit me as I was panicking about wether or not I had good enough gifts for my family that I was realllyyy missing the point.
This season is not actually twinkle lights and watching Home Alone and baking cookies and buying the best gifts we can for the people we love. Those things are great, but it’s not the point. We give gifts at Christmas as a symbolic reminder of the best gift we’ve ever been given and could ever give.
And when you remember that, the panic induced “I wish I could afford to spend my entire paycheque on my parent’s christmas gifts because they deserve it” fades away because newsflash *no gift you give is better than Jesus being born*.
This is a season to remember what happened, and honour that and be as generous with the people we love as we can. It is not a season that should be focused on the gifts under the tree. And it is a season to be reminded that it is good to wait.
Gift giving is also difficult for me because I suck at surprises (on the giving and receiving end). I am the type of person who would love a surprise party thrown for me, but also love planning so much that I would never not plan a party. I tend to micromanage, I like to feel in control and when the holidays come I’m the queen of planning and Christmas shopping and trying to have everything purchased and ready to wrap by the end of November.
And y’all that didn’t happen this year. I didn’t wrap my gifts until Christmas Eve and I felt like a hot mess. And it felt like a very close to home metaphor for life lately. But why is that? An easy answer, control. As humans we like to be in control. We like feeling like we have knowledge and power. We like feeling like nothing can get past us. And what happens when we crave control we can’t have? Anxiety.
But maybe that’s the lesson here, we can’t always micromanage our lives. We can’t always be fully in control. We need to find joy in the waiting for what God has waiting for us. In the trusting that good things are coming. December is the season of advent, but maybe it’s not the only season of advent me or you are experiencing this year.
You might be reading this thinking … Kaitlyn… Christmas was yesterday. Why are you posting this now. Well because maybe this is a lense we can use to look at our lives. Maybe the posture of reveling in the anticipation can be something we carry into the other times when it would be easier to fast forward in our lives.
It is normal to crave control, to stress out when you don’t have it, and get restless in the stagnant seasons of waiting. But keep waiting. Stay faithful. If you’re in the same boat as me, keep trusting that good things are coming and stay present to appreciate the moments that you’re in while you wait.
Okay, so here is the thing, one time I wrote a breakup survival guide because I went through a rough breakup, and subsequently about seven people I really care about also went through rough breakups. So I put all my advice together as a care package of advice to honour their grief and help them along to the other side. I never posted it because it felt too vulnerable and it was more of a “I’m so sorry you’re feeling this way let me send you the link to my google doc survival guide” that I didn’t write with the intention of posting – but people really appreciated it so here we are.
Recently I stumbled upon the guide while going through a different season of grief- and I realized the advice is still good. And maybe I just care less about being vulnerable or maybe I just see the silver lining of heart ache is that I get to empathize better with others and maybe my experience and advice can help your heart feel seen. I said to my friend the other day that I feel like maybe positive side of grief is that when you get to the other side you can turn back and help call your friends forward through their own.
So here we are; my breakup survival guide.
I think often times when we are going through breakups or heartache it can be exhausting to be around people. We’re using so much energy to wake up and get our butt’s out of bed and through the day that sometimes we don’t want to be around people. Isolating yourself isn’t good, but forcing yourself to be with people when you don’t have the energy to be social isn’t either. So you have to find that balance. But the great thing about books is that they can be a voice of encouragement and hope to you and you can read them from the comfort of your bed in your sweatpants and a cup of tea.
Some books that have helped me through heartache, that I’ve shared with my friends are:
- Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
- If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski
- Love Does by Bob Goff
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott
- Scary Close by Donald Miller
- Rising Strong by Brené Brown
My breakup advice doesn’t stop at a book list. There are a lot of ways you can help yourself mend a broken heart. Like I said, isolating yourself isn’t good and I believe spending time with people who love you and make you feel good. I love the expression “people who feel like sunshine”, and I truly do have those friends who after I spend time with them I feel like I have a glow. Reach out to those people and let them love you.
Along with spending time with friends is having fun with friends. You might think, but Kaitlyn, isn’t that the same thing? No, not always, especially not if you’re going through a rough time. So once the sadness starts to pass, have so many fun nights with your friends. Go to your best friend’s house and lay on their floor while they make you brownies. Eat more ice cream than your lactose intolerant stomach can handle. Drink rosé on the beach and laugh too loud and remember all the wonderful surprises life has in store for you.
Journal, make art, find ways to express your thoughts and feelings so you can process them and then let them go. Buy yourself a plant, love it, tend to it, watch it grow, and remember that progress, growth and healing is a slow process. You won’t notice things change day by day, but month by month you’ll notice little changes and developments. Grow with the plant.
The most comforting thing I was told by my friends was that there is no rush to feel better. Which is pretty fucking liberating to be honest. You get to be sad for however long you need to, and you get to process for as long as you need to, and there is no deadline to feel ‘better’ (also can someone explain to me what ‘better’ is?). If you only need to be sad for a week that’s awesome but you can also still be figuring out where you are at months and months later. The top of your Breakup Survival To Do List should be to feel everything you need to feel.
Along with some book recommendations, I have some song recommendations for you too. Because a breakup isn’t a good breakup without a playlist to go along with it – right? Here are some of the tunes that got me through one of mine:
- Literally every John Mayer song ever written, especially the album The Search For Everything ALSO the album Battle Studies (specifically The Edge Of Desire)
- You’re Such A by Hailee Steinfeld
- 11 Blocks by Warbel
- Saved by Khalid
- Once by Maren Morris
- Gonna Get Over You by Sara Bareilles
- Tired of Talking by LEON
- You & Me by G-Eazy
- Think About You by LEON
- Latch by Sam Smith
- Over You by Zak Waters
- What’s Love Got To Do With It by Rose Cousins
- Let You Get Away by Shaun Frank
- Drunk Girls Don’t Cry by Maren Morris
- Best Thing I Never Had by Beyonce
- Too Good by Drake
- Yesterday by The Beatles
- If You Ever Want to be In Love by James Bay
- Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself by Jess Glynne
- Let It Matter by Johnnyswim
- I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) by Whitney Houston (this will inspire you for the love to come)
If you want more tunes you can just listen to my hysterically mellow-dramatically sad breakup playlist on spotify, because why not.
The two themes to get out of this post are that it’s okay if you feel crappy, there is no need to pretend like you don’t when you get your heart broken. But it will get better and one day you might even be able to see silver linings to having gone through this. And secondly, don’t be afraid to lean on people. Let your friends be there for you in the sadness of the day and in the happiness that is waiting for you tomorrow.
I was given a lot of advice and encouragement from people in my life and I want to close by sharing some of those words with you;
“Don’t lose confidence in yourself, what you can do, who you are, and the reasons why so many people love you. Hold on to those things and the joy that makes you, you” – S.M.
“All I can tell you right now is that eventually, things will get better. Just take your time to get back to what you feel is normal. Be sad for as long as you need to be, take your time to heal and grow. Surround yourself with family, friends and things that make you happy. If it feels like nothing is helping, pray. Talking to God always helps when nothing else does.” – D.M.
“You need time. And to take that time and live through it. This time doesn’t have to be bad. This is life. And life is beautiful even in sadness.” – C.G
“Resist the feeling of wanting to fast forward through your life. You are capable of finding happiness every single day. You are the sun.” – C.G.
Posting this is kinda one of those “oh my gosh this is uncomfortably vulnerable” moments, because talking about heartbreak and admitting what cheesy sad songs I listened to means sharing a bit more of myself. It reminds me of the puffy-eyed, stoic girl I was for a few weeks of 2017. But I’ve been told by friends that this advice helped them. And maybe you are going through a hard time, or maybe your best friend just got blindsided by a breakup and you have no idea what to say. So this is for you, this is for anyone who’s ever had their heart broken. This is me, sanding on the other side of grief telling you that it’s going to be okay.
I was riding in the car with my family last weekend and my brother and I were playing around with the idea that commiserating with people is a bit like being “co-miserable”. The act of commiserating with friends when life feels like it is unravelling is a sure way to bond with people.
The stressful moments of dress rehearsals when things are going wrong before opening night.
Seventeen and eighteen year olds who have no idea how to survive their first round of midterms – but get through the allnighters together.
Friends who, due to serendipity or dumb luck, simultaneously go through seasons of grief or heartache and play the role of shoulder to cry on together.
These aren’t particularly easy things to go through, but when we survive them with the support and love of friends we are able to manage better. And sometimes even look on them as happier memories because we shared them with others.
There are some memories that I remember so fondly even though living through them was difficult. There was a day when I was living in Florida when all of the women I was living with were having a bad day. Homesickness, trouble with boys, school stress, the general grind of life; we were all going through our own issues, but we shared the feeling.
We gathered in the kitchen, it started with just a few of us talking while making dinner, but eventually all our roommates joined in. The six of us sat around the kitchen island on bar stools and chairs from the dining room table. We shared mac n cheese, cheesy mashed potatoes and our stories.
These were women who went from perfect strangers to close friends in a matter of months – but a lot of that bonding came from honesty and vulnerability with each other. It came from walking through life together and being able to say when we weren’t having a great day. It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering, but knowing you have permission to say “Can we go get Del’s and drive around listening to Sam Smith in your car?”
We often won’t have the power to fix the problems of the people we love – but we have the ability to show up and create space where it’s okay to not be okay. Where we can admit that life can be heavy sometimes. A place where we can fall apart together – and build each other back up. If that’s not community, I don’t know what is.
The courage to be vulnerable isn’t easy to summon, sometimes it’s 72 hours of a roommate-ship before you’re spilling your biggest secrets and sometimes it’s months of consistent Tuesday night bible studies before we share when we’re having a really bad day.
We build relationships differently with each person we meet, and whenever it feels like you’ve built that appropriate trust, having the courage to be honestly and authentically you is so invaluable.
Since that car ride with my brother I got coffee with a friend and we talked for nearly four hours. It was a beautiful and refreshing feeling to sit with someone and genuinely just share our struggles and triumphs of the recent months. Socially it’s maybe not that common to get so vulnerable with feelings in a coffee shop – but to me that is the heart of friendship; knowing there is space to be honest. Having people in your life who allow you to feel comfortable and supported enough to share the parts of you not everyone gets to see.
There are going to be times in life that things fall apart a bit and life feels like it is unravelling – things just happen and we don’t always have control. But having community makes those times easier.
Maybe it looks like getting Taco Bell in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep, maybe it’s honest phone calls, maybe it’s having the worst day ever and wandering around Target with smoothies, maybe it’s friend’s who come to your rescue as soon as they hear your terrible news, maybe it’s driving around listening to Sam Smith and venting about your feelings, maybe it’s tearing up over London Fogs after you admit to someone who cares that you’ve been having a hard few months – however you cope with the unravelling of life I hope you do it with friends, you can be co-miserable and look back on it later as something that wasn’t so bad.