Grief is like a treacherous hike up a mountainside. Unfamiliar territory. Haunting background and foreground voices. Lonely as hell. A lot like the book Wild.
Only this expedition you didn’t choose.
This expedition you get to figure out as you go. Twisting ankles, creating callouses on your tender hands and toes, becoming a little more like a warrior suffering PTSD after war and less like the optimistic, somewhat lucky woman you used to be a little more each day. Your shadow eludes to the fact that you’re building muscles in places you didn’t know could be built. Ones you didn’t ask for, want and now sort of hate.
This expedition has pushed you into a crisis mode. One you’ve watched unfold a dozen different ways a hundred different times in film and movies. But this one is supremely real. Flesh and blood. And while they say grief is an emotion, but it hurts like you’ve physically labored. Because you did.
But maybe the most surprising thing about grief isn’t that it’s a treacherous hike. You’re learning to breathe and walk and live without the person you swore you couldn’t live without. Maybe more than one. Of course it is treacherous.
And maybe the most surprising thing about grief isn’t that it’s lonely. You feared, yes, that you’d miss them the most and that in time you’d be the only one to whisper his or her name through shaky lips. And while it definitely hurts, it isn’t all that surprising when the shock and numbness wears away. Grief is not something many people can empathize with for very long unless they’ve walked it.
And maybe the most surprising thing about grief isn’t that it is both an emotional and a physical pain. Your arms physically hurt. Your belly longs to be filled with life again. And that pain in your chest. It isn’t anything a doctor or medicine can fix. It’s the impossible pain that you know deep down inside is a symptom of grief.
No, the most surprising thing about grief is the collateral damage. The shedding aspect of this crisis you have been thrust into. Without warning usually and without question.
The shedding wears down your cans and cant’s. You realize you can’t do it all, and you don’t want to. Your superpowers as a woman, mother, wife, sister, girlfriend, lover, daughter have all been channeled into merely surviving.
You find yourself suddenly unpassionate about things you once found fascinating. It makes your heart hurt a little, but not enough to make it count. So you let it go.
You have unrealized expectations for your circle of people. And when they fail to show up or suddenly become scarce you realize this is another symptom or side effect of grief. It shakes your life again, as if it could survive another sifting. Your circle, your world gets smaller. The bonds that survive the sifting are precious and often surprising ones.
If you find yourself expecting after loss, you are no longer concerned with weight gain or decorating a Pinterest-worthy nursery. You just want a breathing, living baby in your arms. You don’t care about much else as far as the pregnancy is involved.
When and if you find yourself parenting again after loss, you say and do things that you know are a direct result of losing a child. Maybe it is holding them a little longer than they want to be cuddled, secretly shedding tears with each birthday and milestone, acting to your worst fears every time they get sick, staying home when you thought you’d be more career-focused, giving into more hugs and kisses and glasses of milk at bed time than you probably would before.
You find that looking in the mirror is a lot like meeting a stranger. Every single morning. The creases, freckles, wrinkles and cheek bones haven’t changed. I think maybe it’s the eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul and the loudest talkers after grief and loss. No amount of makeup or hairspray can coat the story your eyes tell.
You lose a lot of important people in your circle. And that emptiness is never as large a loss as your own child, but it is, once again… collateral damage.
There comes a day though, I have found in all of this hiking, callous and muscle building, that you learn to own your own skin again. I liken it to the breathtaking view of a sunset touching a natural pool of water in the mountains, that can only be witnessed by the naked eye by facing treachery up close and personal. You can’t get this experience any other way. Photographs are stories of other people’s travels, as are hearing about someone’s loss. Nothing can compare to actually living it.
You are living the epitome of great loss and great depth.
This wasn’t your plan A, B or Z. But you’re living it nonetheless. And one day in spite of all this collateral damage you find a way to make this treacherous mountain of grief a companion. It’s revealed more of you than you ever knew about yourself. The dark, the fascinating, the wild, the openness, the secrets, the light. It has split you wide open and you live your life in this fashion. Split wide open. An open book, even if it’s only your eyes that tell the story.
You’ve survived all of this. And more.