Grieving is hard work. It’s exhausting, ugly, important work. I’ve learned a few lessons about it in five decades of life, I share them to encourage anyone experiencing their own loss, and the pain that accompanies it.
I became intimate with grief after the full-term stillbirth of my only daughter. I learned that sorrow reaches unimaginable depths of the human soul. I learned that it comes and goes in waves. I learned that giving in to those waves meant a debilitating keening that renders a body numb and spent. I learned that I could be a living contradiction: whole in body, yet feeling as though my heart had been blown wide open with all the violence of a shotgun blast at close range. I learned that the heart can physically ache and a mother’s empty arms can be painful beyond the help of any narcotic or anti-depressant.
It took two full years to work through that particular grief, but it prepared me for subsequent losses. A divorce that smashed relationships to pieces. A brother whose time came too early and whose loss leaves the biggest of holes in family pictures. A mother whose absence lends a permanent sense of nakedness to my life. Sons that have grown and moved out, leaving deafening silence in their place. Once, an election left me mourning.
The most recent loss is that of a treasured little sprite of a dog. She wasn’t even suppose to be mine, but she followed me around for a week until I gave in and hoisted her up on my lap where she loved to sit. I’d always preferred big dogs, but this tiny creature
wedged her way into my heart and found a place to occupy that I didn’t even know existed. At fifteen, she was cranky, blind, and in pain. A solemn trip to the vet eased her suffering and she now sleeps under a favored tree in the back yard.
While she sleeps, my old friend grief follows me around. I recognized it immediately and where before I would be angry at having to go through it again, I realize that by now I’ve learned what’s in store for me and somehow that makes it easier. My broken heart feels like it won’t ever be whole again but seasoned experience allows me to remind myself that this is temporary; time will see the pain subside, precious memories help to soothe and soften it. As familiar waves of sadness tumble over me, I can now see that they also consist of prior losses and like a valve, my sobs enable their release, bring healing. I now know without a doubt that those waves will become less forceful, less frequent. I am numb, but in my intimacy with grief I realize this is normal, it will wear off. I remind myself that I have endured before, I will endure again. Mostly, I am exhausted. In my wisdom, I know that my energy will return, the future will bring happiness. A time will come when I will smile and mean it, and I’ll know that I am done grieving. My friend will leave and wait patiently until the next time.
After 9/11 President Bush urged us to ‘get back to normal’ as soon as possible. Normalcy is quite relevant though; once a hole is blasted through the walls of a soul by a loss, a new normal must be sought. Grief is the road we take to get there and there is no other route available. It does not come easily. It does not come immediately. It occurs gradually as the pain subsides and we adjust to an altered life.
Grieving and adjusting is hard work, however. May these lessons comfort, give strength, and help you discover that you can, and will, come out just fine on the other side. Take it from me, I know.