10/31/2013 09:35 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2013

There's No Time Limit on Grief

I believe the best gifts are wrapped in pain. Take my divorce. I didn't see it coming, didn't want it, could've sworn it was the worst thing that ever happened. I looked at it as a gift, all right. The kind you open and mutter, "You shouldn't have."

I thought of it that way for seven months. For seven months I had the luxury of doing almost nothing but grieve. I ran five miles every other day and attended to lawyers and packing, but mostly what I remember are the tears. I spent my first Christmas alone, with nothing to mark the occasion but a pathetic phone call to my sister. The tears at the running track, which I hoped were passing as sweat. The tears as a good friend insisted I was taking too long to get over this, and that I should at least get a part-time job in retail -- if that's what it took to get out of the house and get my mind off myself.

When this good friend found herself unable to move on when it had been more than a year since her husband died, I understood. I didn't say, "I told you so." I blanketed her with reassurance of the one thing I believe, which is no one can tell you how long it's okay to grieve. It takes as long as it takes, and sometimes the only way to feel better is to allow yourself to feel even worse.

Any 4-year-old knows this. Try telling a 4-year-old to stop crying, that she has no right to be this upset about that thing. Suddenly you have a different problem.

The opposite is magic. If you tell the child, "That sucks. That really sucks," as you scoop her up in your arms to comfort her for as long as she needs it -- watch how quickly she starts to feel better. The bad feelings are washing away, corny as it sounds, and making room for the good ones. Maybe that's why they call it having a good cry.

Whatever. It works.

Something hurts. You let it hurt. After a while it stops hurting and because your heart was broken, there's room for something wonderful to move in.

Which in my case was the life I'd always dreamed of. Work I love, a best friend-turned-husband who helped me find it, and a daughter who makes it all worthwhile. Everything I cherish is a direct result of having lost everything I thought I cherished. It took me seven months to say goodbye, but I haven't missed my old love -- or life -- for one minute.

I do, however, miss that daughter who makes it all worthwhile. She's in college halfway across the country now, and I feel unmoored. Oh sure, we're closer than ever in some ways. But the dailyness of having her around is mostly a thing of the past, and anticipating that transition was like being pushed off a cliff in slow motion.

The writer Louis L'Amour said something I've quoted often, know in theory, but just have to trust it'll play out once again: "There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning."

Here's hoping!

For more by Maureen Anderson, click here.

For more on happiness, click here.

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