An Open Letter to Grief
The Day I Met Grief
You clamored into my life while I was celebrating 3 years with my husband. The grill was fired up and the air was cool and comfortable around us. We had enjoyed a day full of laughter and fun, reminiscing on years past and reveling in each other’s company. I was 6 months pregnant with my first daughter, after a grueling 2 ½ years of struggling with infertility. I was working a good job, and my mother-in-law was in town, visiting from halfway across the country. It was a great day to be alive.
What My Mom Told Me about Grief vs. What it actually was
My mother always warned me about Death. She and I would sit around the patio table in her front yard on a Sunday morning, eating breakfast or smoking a cigarette, and she would talk about the coming day where he would creep up on her or my father; she reminded me often that I was the oldest sibling, that my 5 younger sisters would need me to care for them and how I would need to be a landing area for any one of them that might spiral at the news. I knew one day my parents would die; I didn’t know yet, though, that your icy grip would wrap my entire body, that it would constrict my knees together and freeze the breath in my lungs, making me fall to the ground, gasping. I didn’t know, yet, about the nightmares you would bring me, or about the waves of anxiety that you would rock in my stomach.
Grief’s Presence at the Funeral
Death came for my mom and dad on September 10th, 2018. He wrapped them up in a white sheet on the side of a busy street near a shopping mall; that’s when I met you. You took root in my life and became an unwelcome roommate in my brain, bringing thoughts of all the will-never-see-again’s. You sat next to me on the stiff couch at the funeral home with your arm across my shoulders, pushing me down into my hands, and you squeezed sounds out of me that I didn’t recognize. When the preacher stood starkly at the pulpit, you pushed Nostalgia to the side and took center stage, twisting my insides. I learned then that you are ice and fire because the red-hot sear in my belly that I felt when I saw the photos of my father walking me down the aisle left a hole that I’m not sure will ever heal.
The closing statements at the funeral floated to me, distorted, underwater. A million hugs left a puddle on the shoulder of my dress, and I did my best to muster up a smile, even though you were pulling down the corners of my mouth with blades and fire. I stumbled through all the condolences and sympathy cards with you lurking behind me like a shadow.
How I Took the Power Away from Grief and Became a Better Me
When the time came to return to work, Sleep had become a welcome guest, and was the only thing that seemed to keep you at bay. There were moments right before I drifted off and as soon as I awoke where you were still a stranger to me. I clung to those few seconds and drew from them for strength often.
I struggled for months trying to put the pieces back together. I learned that the best way to live with you was to acknowledge you, so I looked you straight in the face and let you break me down. I cried oceans of tears, letting the waves you left in my stomach fall down. When family members or friends asked to help me, I let them. The weight of you on my shoulders was far too heavy to bear on my own, so I stopped being afraid to let them lend a helping hand. Even when it seemed impossible, I got up in the morning, took a shower, ate breakfast, and went about my day as normally as I could. I took comfort in the notion that life is for the living and remembered my mother telling me so many times: “Don’t cry for me, be happy that we spent the time we did together.” I started handfuls of craft projects and scrubbed my childhood home from floor to ceiling. I found that your presence was much less daunting while I was doing something I loved.
When Grief Rears His Ugly Head
When my daughter was born, you took me on a rollercoaster. When I was growing up, most girls dreamt about their mother getting them ready for prom or the snowy white ball gown that they would float down the aisle in, while holding their dad’s arm. I was always meant to be a mother. I imagined the day I would give birth to my first baby girl, while squeezing my mother’s hand on one side and my husband’s hand on the other. I thought we might all cry together at the most beautiful miracle of life. My baby girl was born into the world without my mom to hold my hand, and you lied next to me in the hospital room. I pushed you deep into the pits of my stomach and enjoyed the next few sleepy weeks without much thought of you. I realized then that you only have as much power as I give you.
Life after Acceptance of Grief and What it Taught Me
For a long time, Grief, I wanted to get over you. I thought I was supposed to be working so hard to forget you, so that life could go back to normal. I have realized now that life will never be normal again; you will always be riding in the backseat of my car when a song comes on that reminds me of them, or lurking around the corner on their birthdays and other holidays. I have come to be thankful for you, Grief, because you help me remember. You are a constant reminder to cherish the time I have with the people that are still alive. You have pushed me to hug the ones I love most, and to say “I love you” far more often than before. You give purpose to my life, because you remind me just how precious it is.