When loss happened, my relationship with time changed. It was a bit like my own reflection in a fun-house mirror where my neck appeared to be super long, but everything from my bellybutton to my shoes got squished together.
Some days (or hours, or even minutes) I felt as though an eternity had passed. Everything slowed down and my life seemed to stretch out. Other days (or weeks, months or even years) I wondered where the time had gone. How was it possible that so much time had passed so damn quickly?
Even without trauma, time can play tricks on us, but there’s something about grief and loss that seems to magnify this phenomenon. It is still not clear which part of our brain governs our perception of time. At the very least, what research has shown is that if we are looking forward to something with gleeful anticipation (like Christmas morning as a child), time takes its sweet time, but if we are anticipating an experience with dread (an appointment with the dentist), time does us no favors and speeds right up.
What this tells me is that the story we tell ourselves about our past or anticipated experiences, affects our perception of time. Mindset and attitude are critical. Glee or dread? Hmmm. What if I were to tell myself a different story?
Loss is a potent reminder that life can be mercilessly short. That knowledge, force-fed into my brain when my son died at the age of 20, became undeniable. This knowledge eventually inspired me to FILL my days with activities that would result in meaningful, vivid, long-lasting and pleasurable memories. The quality of my time, it turns out, was as important as how much (or how little) time I had.
Isolation and loneliness while grieving, made every minute stretch out to infinity. The days I planted myself on the sofa in front of the TV, mindlessly eating massive quantities of comforting carbs, and speaking to no one but the uncharitable voices inside my head, were the days that seemed endless. Several of those days in a row stretched out into a mind-numbing, infinite ride to nowhere and nothingness.
By contrast, when I was joyfully occupied, time flew. But this was tricky. It wasn’t enough to have a long To-Do list. Keeping myself busy and my mind distracted from my grief only worked up to a point. As soon as I had down time, guess what showed up again? My loss and my pain. Keeping busy only delayed the inevitable and sometimes intolerable emotions. Although delay was sometimes necessary, it was never a permanent solution.
I am more than eight years out from my son’s death. It seems as though he has been gone forever. It seems as if it happened yesterday. Time is a mystery, but when combined with enormous loss, it is even more confounding. What’s important to remember is that it is not our job to make sense of time. It is merely our job to be in it, with our pain and loss, but with appreciation and wonder as well.