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.


If I were me instead of you

If I were me instead of you
I’d probably lay off a little
take a walk
make some music
frolic more
but that’s if I were me

If I were me instead of you
I’d love myself
I’d wrap my arms around my body
happy tears would stream down my cheeks
and I’d laugh
because, holy shit
I finally found my one true love
but that’s if I were me

If I were me instead of you
I’d invite me outside to play
with the dogs who love their sticks
and I’d smile up at the birds
while you try to match their songs with your own voice
but that’s if I were me

If I were me instead of you
I’d play games of all types
I’d invite you to my freshly cleaned off table
and I’d pull a chair out for you to sit
and I’d smile gratefully at you from across the table
but that’s if I were me

If I were me instead of you
I’d hold your hand when you cried
I’d wrap my fingers in your hair
and make sure you knew I was present and available to you
because I love you
and you deserve to know it with every move I make
but that’s if I were me

But since I’m not me
I’m you
I’ve confused the roles we took
and inside of my heart there is a heaviness
a lingering pain
and yet every time I peer into the mirror
I notice how confused I look
because I’m me
I’m not you

Painful, Powerful Vulnerability

Being vulnerable is this weird challenge: in my experience, vulnerability is stigmatized yet deeply sought after. We want lovers and friends who can open up to us without conditions or boundaries, yet we ask that they do so on a timeline. We watch the clock and wonder with baited breath whether it’s “too soon” or “too late” to open up; the ticking of that clock only exaggerating the curiosity and the angst that follows.
Vulnerability has to be gauged, measured and measured again before the final cut. It must be scrutinized over like a blueprint, and scoured like a dirty toilet. And for those of us who choose to identify, possess, and allow our personal vulnerabilities to come forth as a regular part of our being, it can be met with tremendous pain by those who see it.

I never really thought of myself as vulnerable until a couple of years ago. A friend of mine helped me find a path toward embracing my personal vulnerability, instead of fighting it, and I am grateful to them for that. All they said was that I had what they’d call “powerful vulnerability”; which they further explained as being so expressly vulnerable that it allows others to air dirty laundry of their own. To open up. To be afraid and to cry into the hands of a stranger

And truth be told, I’ve cried to strangers. I’ve wept into my trembling hands before I’ve looked into the eyes of other beings, wondering what I would find in the lines etched into their faces or in the glint of their eyes when I uncovered my face. But before I felt comfortable enough to do that I only allowed myself to cry outside when it was pouring rain; a natural shield against people seeing me, while still seeing me.

Through the course of my life I often felt that fear was unacceptable and it wasn’t OK to respond to it, or at least to admit that I was responding to it. That last part is key.
Over time I’ve experimented with how to express it: through poetry and writing, song and dance, through anger and lashing out at others who didn’t deserve it, and through the touch of someone else that I know doesn’t want to truly know me for more than the lines of my body. I’ve wept into blankets and laughed uproariously. But the balance and heartfelt expression of my own fear and vulnerability weren’t quite awakened. I had baggage, yet I would circumspect about showing it to the general populous.

Vulnerability or weakness implied “inability” to me for a big duration of my life. Now I see how desperately the world needed for me to be weak in order for the rest of the world to be strong. Because it was in my strength of expressing my own fear and pain that allowed the world to shed the many layers that have kept us hidden from ourselves. These are the very layers we’ve relied on when we get into relationships. These are the layers that we wear when we meet opposition. Sometimes these layers are precursory, sometimes they’re put on when the perception of a threat increases or we become triggered or overwhelmed.
And through our layers we can no longer feel the ocean air except for on the small parts of our face that we keep uncovered. We don’t know the many complexities or the feeling of grit and dried mud on the coats of our animals. The sting of a bee doesn’t cause us as much pain now as it did when the bare feet of our three-year-old selves first encountered that alarming stab of pain and venom.

It’s as if I now see what others see when they look in the mirror: not themselves, but a shadow of their person lingering behind their perfect reflections. An incandescent being that’s whispers of self-loathing, fear-mongering and angry backlash as a form of dealing with vulnerability.

This is the realm where no conversations are had. Where loud and harmful words are spoken in whispers and yet are far more damaging than yelling will ever be. Where we hide from ourselves and each other. Where our personal misconceptions are dropped like litter on the floor, and we just hope someone else will come pick it up because we just can’t seem to do it on our own. This is the place we come in order to die. In order to suffer. In order to find and lose our hearts and souls at the same time. The place that the shadow is banished, but only if you stand so high in the light that you can see how far and wide it casts itself upon your forest.
These are the shadows of blame. Of shaming yourself and others. Of not taking responsibility. Of manipulation and control.

Yet each tree in this forest represents the core of our being: hope, tranquility, connection, enthusiasm, positivity, breath, love, and yes… even fear and vulnerability.

As I’m writing this I’m feeling a great pain in my stomach and in my heart. I’m sitting in wonder of what is to come, and what is supposed to be my next challenge–as if I really needed anything else, yet my restless body and mind seek something fresh and novel.

I’ve experienced so much trespass in my life. So much fear and hatred, yet here I stand within it. Here I am, completely encompassed by mixed feelings of niggling dread and the biggest breath of hope and for my capacity for personal potential. And all around me I see others writhing about, although not necessarily suffering but the unconscious few causing harm and suffering to others around them as they clear a whirlwind path through the trees and make their way to me.

And there’s no sidestepping this. Instead I’m prepared to stand within the eye of the storm, weary and maybe a bit confused but with the knowledge and the understanding that I am here for a purpose. Even the whirling winds that are lifting me up off of the ground will become exhausted and put me back down eventually. So as I am pulled from my own sanctuary and forced into the gray mass of hysteria, I find myself quietly contemplative, knowing full well that this storm is just that: a storm.

I’ll be ready to find my way through again, just as soon as I’m set back down.

The beauty of books

I’ve flipped these pages so many times
the edges are worn
and there are stains so deep that they’ve seeped into the pages above and below.

My fingers have grazed this binder,
bending it, stretching it over my knee as I rode on the train to see my lover,
the clicking of the tracks the rhythm for which I read these stories.

My eyes have grown weary in the darkness of the winter nights.
In dim lighting I would squint and stare absently,
the words running together endlessly as I’d wonder about other things, yet still manage to read a chapter.

There’s a special crease in my shoulder from packing my books around,
like treasure troves of comfort
or markedly disdainfully read at times
I’d never leave without them.

And sometimes I can smell my own hands upon the worn pages,
blending my own life history within the porous papers.
I smell these books sometimes,
they are memoirs without my own words written within them
they embody hindsight as 20/20, that place where pain never existed and happiness was absolute.

If only I could taste the words you wanted to say to me,
I would call to you
enrich our lives with the sweetness, the stoic stance you take
as you hold your hand out to me
and I think about how you would be my game changer if I were actually awake.

If I could only feel the thoughts that you think
I would pluck them from my skin.
I imagine they would glow and bubble
and I could hold them in the palms of my hands and blow them up into the air
and we’d watch them whirl up toward the sun and vanish.

If I could only smell the steps that you’ve taken in your life
I’m sure I’d smell dirt mixed with blood,
and fairy dust mixed with candy canes and evergreen trees.
And I’d dance through the aroma of who you are,
capturing you forever in my memory with every breath that I take.

Struggling to write some poetry

I’m struggling to write some poetry
yet there’s so much I want to say.
I’ve pressed the keys,
kept my fingers in constant contact
with the wonders and the way.

Yet here I am, still struggling to write poetry
and not even the bitter sweetness of chocolate seems to woo me,
to pull it out of me,
to offer me some sort of insight into the block I have
yet even still, I could do lots of yoga poses with this block.

I’ve looked upon so many words
and I’ve watched myself drawing lines on paper,
etching the ink in deep as I make a plan
for some sort of life that I’ve got just within reach of my hands
and I’m still struggling to complete something I feel is worthwhile.

When it’s coming down to it
I’ve only got so many gauges to fill up my bowl of inspiration
and there they are,
drilled full of holes
and left out in the rain.
And I find myself complaining, “why doesn’t this bowl hold anything?”
“Why can’t I seem to grasp my truth in writing?”

So here I am, begrudgingly writing about how I can’t seem to write any poetry.
Thinking these words aren’t enough.
Laughing at my own silly irony.


I placed a stamp upon an envelope
and put it in the mail.
I waited quietly,
arms crossed
as I watched it return to me three days later.

I ripped it open,
reading the note.
it read

“let go of them,
let go
be silent instead”

And I tore it up and threw it in the fire.
And stuffed a note inside a new envelope.
I placed a stamp upon it and I put it in the mail.

I waited impatiently,
eyes crossed
as I saw the mailperson return it to me.

I raced to the mailbox
and there it laid.
already ripped open
and this is what it said

“if you let me go
I’ll come back to you instead
but let me go one more time,
and I’ll be free from your head”

So I stuffed the torn note and envelope into a box
and I shipped it the same day.
It came back to me the day later
where I opened it to find it say

Absolutely nothing.