If there is anything I’ve learned from more than 14 years of life after loss, it’s this:
Grief, like life, is messy.
It’s beauty mixed with brokenness and tears. It’s joy mixed with unbearable sorrow. It’s hugs mixed in with bouts of loneliness. It’s laughter that turns into tears that turns back to hard won smiles.
It’s messy, full of shades of gray, and never what I expect it to be.
The last few months have reminded me just how messy and uncomfortable and unpredictable life can be. No matter how smoothly life may go, there will always be times when it throws us unexpected curveballs.
A while back, I spent time in the hospital with a mother and her baby. The baby had a prolonged seizure and for a while it was unclear whether the baby would make it. It was scary and overwhelming and traumatic – and brought up all of my painful and devastating memories of the death of my fiancé and the stillbirth of our daughter.
That same morning, I got news that a dear friend was in the hospital dying. She died less than 48 hours later.
Two days after that I got news that another friend may be close to dying and leaving this earth behind as well. She died a couple of weeks later.
It’s been a helluva few months.
I’ve been plagued by nightmares and painful memories. I cry for losses old and new. I have felt like I’m walking around in a fog, stumbling on rocks and roots blurred by grief. My bones literally ache. I have struggled with loneliness and doubt and fear.
I feel raw and bleeding and fragile.
What I want to do is crawl into bed with a few pints of ice cream and pizza to stuff myself into oblivion. Or, if that doesn’t work, I’m tempted to throw myself into work and busyness and distraction so that I don’t have to feel so damn much.
More than anything I want to numb myself and get rid of this sick, broken, ugly feeling in the pit of my stomach and the terrible aching in my chest that makes it hard to breathe.
When my fiancé and daughter died, that’s exactly what I did. I numbed out, checked out, and lost myself in years of eating and working and running fast and hard away from facing that unbearable loss and grief.
However, what more than 14 years of loss has also taught me is that I can’t possibly eat enough to bury grief. I can’t work hard enough or long enough to completely numb the pain. I can’t run far enough or fast enough to escape the grief and pain and messiness of life.
And recently, as the blows have come, I have taken a deep breaths and allowed the weight of grief settle onto my bones.
It hurts to lose those we love. It leaves a gaping hole in our life that isn’t supposed to be there and the grief that fills that hole is heavy, unpredictable, and raw.
We can try to run from it, bury it in work or food or sex or alcohol or plain old denial, but grief will always catch up with us in one way or another. It cannot be outrun.
We can only breath, however painfully, through the brokenness.
Cry through the loneliness.
Cling to whatever we can to carry us through the unpredictability and uncertainty.
Find something – anything – to light the way through the fog and darkness.
How do we live through grief and loss?
We hold on.
To those we love who still remain.
To the love we have for those who are gone.
To whatever gets us through the nights, the hours, the moments of pain.
To our hearts – that part of us that despite the brokenness and unbearable aching continues to beat life in our chest.
To hope that this moment of unforeseen grief and seeming unending pain will not be all that is left, that laughter and light will come again.
To trust that however angry and devastated we feel in this moment, this is not the end of the good in life.
We hold onto life – as messy and unpredictable and uncomfortable and unfair as it might be.
To experience such love and lose that which we love so deeply is an unbearable grief.
Yet to love at all is life’s most beautiful gift.
That’s what I hold onto. Love. Because not even death can take that gift away.