What is grief?
Sometimes death is what most commonly affects our existence, leaving us scarred and sometimes irreversibly damaged.
Other times it’s the situations surrounding death. The emotional turmoil or the fear that leaves us toiling over thoughts that make us wish we had done better. It has us believing that we have to do better, so we frantically study and we stew and we try our best to align and prepare ourselves so that when grief finally arrives on our doorstep we’re prepared to welcome it. We have tools, now. Grief won’t get the better of us, right?
And yet we still think that we could do better, if only we had more than we had now (or then). If only we had more energy. More money. More support. More time. More love. If only we were smarter, more patient, more loving. If only we were less involved in our work, less concerned with the status quo, and experienced less confusion, fear or uncertainty.
So that brings me back to my original question: what is grief?
If you were to ask Doctors they’d say that grief is different for every person, unique as a snowflake is the experience of grief. They’d encourage you to seek support, professionally and within your community; and to allow yourself safe space so you may know grief as it comes.
So when grief finally comes knocking, some of us busy our bodies. We try to elevate parts of ourselves that feel good by cooking, running, writing, playing and helping others. Maybe as a means to understand the grief we deepen our connection to the pieces inside of us that feel better when we’re active. Maybe this is because grief is a movable force, it creates ample space that at first may seem like a void. A blank space. A painful reflection on what once was and no longer is. Like a herd of horses galloping out of our line of sight, leaving hoof prints but taking their bodies with them. We’re no longer able to witness their physical presence. Yet others may look upon this with a different gaze.
For some, grief may manifest in tandem with relief. This feels especially confusing when we’re living with active loss. This has happened numerous times in my life, and sometimes the shame of feeling relieved while simultaneously grief-stricken is the worst part about any of it. It’s confusing. It can feel like a huge betrayal to feel any sense of relief when someone or something else is now gone. In my life this has manifested as a byproduct of always doing too much. Of spreading myself far too thin, or over-committing myself without entirely realizing just how deep the bog I had waded into actually was. Occasionally, when grief is peppered with relief, however; it can also be space for allowing. The sense of detachment allows for concentrated thoughts on love–which at this point in my life is definitely important, even when it feels like I’m running low on that vital resource.
And there are many other forms of grief. Tears welling over when someone you love and trust asks you, “are you ok?” is one I know well. A friend showing a shard of love and sympathy can be world-turning, leaving us sobbing in to their clothes and sputtering out words that make sense only to being who understand the painful yet necessary language of grief. In the language of grief, the way words click across your tongue and shape your mouth may feel like knives sometimes, and at other times may feel like gentle fingers coaxing our mouths open as a means to access the truth. As a way to open your heart to pain even you’ve never seen within yourself.
And yet there’s more to grief than even all of this. Laughter as a way of witnessing grief can be an enormously helpful tool, reminding us that in the heaviness of our contrast is the most potent of feelings and experiences. Many times I’ve sat painfully upon my own couch, wrapped haphazardly in a robe that swept the floor when I was a child and now dangles comfortable around my knees. Here, I feel quite the mess, and it reflects fully in my energy and disheveled appearance. Other times I cling desperately to appearances and try to make myself feel better by being far too clean. Far too perfect. Far too obviously uncomfortable in my own existence. There are moments when I may find myself laughing alone or with a friend over something that may or may not be that funny had I not been hanging on by my fingernails.
So in consideration of my own grief process I will hold a candle for myself. My own sanctity. I will eat slice after slice of cake, sleep during the day and sob wildly when asked simple questions, such as “are you ok?”. And for now I’m lost in space and time, wondering where my reality ends or begins again. Sometimes grief does that to us. It leaves us in a space of cosmic questioning, offering us small sips of levity that help us gain access to the true nature of our existence. And as the tears fall or the laughs become too big to hold inside and must be shared, we float. Helplessly for a time, our watery innards glistening like stars as we drift up in to space along with them. And eventually with intention and curiosity, perhaps meekly at first; as if we had reached for something that left us burned and injured; we reach out for others. We gaze with interest upon clouds and wonder who named the stars. But then, with time and ample gliding room; we direct our voyage, skimming the milky way with our fingertips as tears make way for smiles and grief makes way for joy once again.