My grief has been kicking up some gunk these last couple weeks, which I thought had long ago settled to the bottom of its pond. The waters there had been still for months–near total placidness–since the second anniversary of his death in June.

Then the seasons began to change, and things shifted. Time for reflection opened up now that I’m a one-job woman. And funny, as soon as there was real space for it to rise, the leftover pain of my grief(s) rose right up to fill it.

I remember this second go around after my divorce, in which the pain of the loss had dulled enough to be tinkered with. And when I examined that loss more closely, and more honestly, I saw the fear I’d been trying to avoid. I understood what was keeping me from fuller healing. Turns out, this second time through my widow’s grief is also a third attempt to face that same fear.

I am afraid: that I will never have a long-term relationship that is a true partnership, that I will never be loved the way I have always wanted to be. I am afraid that I’m somehow not destined for, or not cut out for such love. I’m afraid that I will always have to look back on my marriages and see mostly the ways they have failed. I am afraid that I am just unlucky in love.

I know any number of you reading this will want to immediately talk me out of this fear. You’ll tell me I’m wrong about the story I’m telling myself, and you’re probably right. But please don’t try to tell me not to be afraid.

Feelings are feelings. I’m sad to report that my extensive research into the matter reveals only this: Feelings must be felt. As Megan Devine puts it in her book I avoided reading for two and half years, “What we don’t listen to doesn’t go away… it just finds other ways to speak.”

This deep and leftover fear has been lurking, subterranean, since the break of my first marriage almost ten years ago. And maybe, its the fear that lurks in the deep places of all our hearts, the fear that we are not actually lovable, that we don’t deserve to be loved unconditionally, that if other people knew our whole hearts, they’d certainly reject us. Maybe this fear is just part of the human condition.

But right now, it’s keeping me from facing the things that will lead me to fuller healing and more integration of my grief into what I hope will be a joy- and love-filled future. And I remember, from facing this fear as a divorcee, that there were only two things that actually made it recede. First, give it air and sunlight. Second, let other people in to love me again, in hopes of proving my fears unfounded.

I’m starting with the first, by laying that fear out here for the world to see. I’m talking about it with my friends, my spiritual director, and my new coach (who specializes in loving BIG). I’m dragging this fear out of its murky depths like a big, prehistoric fish. Creatures of the deep seem a lot less powerful in daylight and open places.

I’m really hoping to get to the second strategy too, but I’m not ready yet. For now, I’ll focus on facing my fear and telling myself a story in which love is risky and sometimes painful, but always worth trying.

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