Just when I feel like I have exhausted everything there is to say about grief, grief finds me.
It happened just the other day on my way to church. Almost every time I hear about someone passing to Heaven I get the weirdest sensation of jealousy. I was sad, of course, but also sad for me. One more person that gets to hold her before I do. I caught myself having an inward conversation – Fran are you listening to yourself? Who gets jealous of the dead?
Grief is not insanity, it just makes you feel that way. Grief makes you think some crazy things, but it does not mean you are crazy. Grief may make you want to be suddenly violent, like throw punches at a punching bag or break dishes. It doesn’t mean you are a violent person. You are not defined by your urges, your thoughts, your wishes, your hopes. ESPECIALLY during grief. Usually the urges and thoughts are really grief just trying to be expressed. Grief is a product of love, literally the only earthly way for us to love our child. Love has endless ways to manifest itself with a living child. Grief is the broken way we are left with to express everything about the love we so desperately wanted to give.
Grief will not always feel the same. Whether you are experiencing deep sadness, depression, anger or anything else, it will change. Grief is anything but constant. There will be many, many times that grief is intense. There will be waves, and catastrophic crashes. There will be remarkable and curious times that it seems to subside. It seems like grief finds new ways to appear and manifest itself no matter how far you are into grief.
Grief will not always feel impossible. There is a day, I have to believe, for everyone that experienced the loss of a child, that grief will not always feel like a life sentence of heartache around every corner. But like love, grief is something that must be felt, expressed, respected. Grief is some of the hardest work you will ever do, and like any amount of hard work, if you lean into it, you will find that it will lend you some of the most rewarding experiences and moments of your life.
Grief is more than sadness and emptiness. A few months after we lost our girl, I was encouraged to stay busy, so I tried. I remember going on this job interview, stupidly (in retrospect). I was weak with sadness and naively thought I was hiding it well enough to work again. I went in to interview for a position at a tutoring business. The woman interviewing me was mostly cold, distant and ironically kept highlighting the fact that they needed “energetic” and “happy” people to be able to motivate her students to of course achieve the desired results. I saw her point, but what she said next threw me. “You look like you just saw a ghost…” her obvious disdain was dripping from her words – I was definitely not getting the job, but that was the least disappointing thing about our conversation. Grief was stronger than me. She had won in that moment. That is when I knew just how flimsy this mask was. I felt stupid, weak and completely broken. In that moment, I also grew a new appreciation for compassion. I didn’t say anything to her, but the interview didn’t last much longer.
I wasn’t trying to act sad – I was sad. All the time. Until one day I wasn’t for a few minutes, and then a whole afternoon, and then a couple of days. Until those gaps between the intense waves of grief grew further and further apart. Those moments I found myself laughing and enjoying the little things in life tasted like fresh honey and being bathed in sunlight after a year underground.
Grief will make your own reflection a stranger, and that’s not always a bad thing. I was coming back to myself, and for the most part I didn’t know how to own that. I had mastered the art of owning my sadness, but this part of grief was new. It felt like betrayal. It felt a lot like forgetting and what others had unconsciously been doing, leaving her behind. Until I learned it wasn’t any of those things.
This had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with me. And that was okay.
Grief was my story. Death and a tragically short and precious life was hers. They were intimately intertwined, but still two different stories. Grief could look like intense and raw and impossible-to-hide-sadness but I found that it could also look like a mad fit of laughter too. Grief could be whatever I wanted it to be. Grief could be whatever I needed it to be. I stopped trying to box grief in, and let her have free reign. She has made me cry at the most inappropriate times and that used to bother me, but I’ve learned that it needs to be expressed. And it feels good to lean in, give her space and let her go.
What have you found to be impossibly true about grief?
Franchesca Cox is the founder of Still Standing Magazine. She is currently seeking her Master’s in Occupational Therapy, a yogi and author of Celebrating Pregnancy Again and Facets of Grief, a creative workbook for grieving mothers. Learn more about her heartwork on her website.