“…Though grief can seem like a cloak that never, really, disappears – it does evolve.
And I believe that’s because grief isn’t meant to be shrugged off. Grief honors loss.”
More than eight years after my mother’s painful death, grief clings to pieces of me. It’s not constantly present. Often it comes out of nowhere. One day I find myself tearing up upon seeing a small family of her beloved quail scampering across a dusty path where we used to hike. Just last year I broke down sobbing in a remote village on the other side of the world after witnessing an elderly Vietnamese woman, hunched and frail like my mother in her last days, tending to her son.
When I say the word “grief” aloud – or even to myself – it sounds like a great tear. A gash. The brevity of the word, the harshness, evokes the sound of fabric being quickly stretched and then ripped apart. And that’s what it often feels like to me. Deeper than sadness. More invasive than anger. These emotions – as difficult or painful as they may be – seem temporary. As if they show up immediately in relation to circumstance and then depart.
But grief… grief is trickier. More complex. Mysterious. It seems to have a life of its own. It visits after a great loss. And then it seems to seep in and get heavier. Like a wool blanket tossed in the water. I try to wring it out. And it lightens for a bit. But it’s as if the fabric doesn’t ever recover from being sodden. Sure, for a time it returns to a semblance of its original shape. But the wrinkles remain. The heavy fabric is forever altered.
But here’s the thing… though grief can seem like a cloak that never, really, disappears – it does evolve. And I believe that’s because grief isn’t meant to be shrugged off. Grief honors loss. When someone falls out of our world, we are left with a chasm where they once were. This emptiness can never truly be filled – not with booze or chocolate or even time. Because nothing can ever equal that which was lost.
My mother – and her very absence – will forever be a part of me. Today, I am simply not the person I was before she died. It’s not that I’m less than. I’m just different. And the act of grieving – of releasing the tears and feeling into the emptiness – seems to lighten the journey away from her.
I used to believe that grief was something to be “dealt with” — as quickly and, ideally, quietly as possible. Read the Hallmark cards. Shed the tears. Use up the box of Kleenex. End of scene.
But today I am trying, not always successfully, to embrace grief. Grief, when it emerges, is telling me that there is more processing needed. It returns time and again. Every time with a little less ferocity. Every time with a bit more ease. And, increasingly, with a whisper of a sweet memory on the other side.
Kathryn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org