“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
The picture is four by seven and we five siblings lean into each other, smiling. The funeral home is crowded with friends and family. The rich walnut wood work goes unnoticed. We are smothered in grief. Everyone loved my mother. It seemed as if everyone she had ever known was there. I felt numb and floaty.
You may be reading and thinking my mom died recently. She didn’t. It has over twenty years. January 8th is her birthday. Every year I go through the same cycle. I begin the year with gusto, lists, a word, getting back to good habits and BAM, grief hits me out of nowhere and knocks the breath out of me. Grief sneaks up on you just when you think it has left. I have a few melancholy moments over Christmas when the scents, the music and putting up the tree triggers a memory, like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail.
It sometimes takes me a day or two to recognize grief. It is not a stranger to me, but sometimes I don’t want to recognize it. I want it to stay a stranger in the shadows and leave me alone. My body aches. I weep at weird times. I’m an introvert, so I isolate. Because I’m adult and have some experience, although my epiphany may be delayed I recognize grief and call it out by name.
God gives us peace for this unfathomable pain.
But, peace is not an antidote for the pain, it is more likened to an antiseptic to keep the wound from festering, but the wound is still there, fresh and deep.
It’s okay to angry with God.
He can take it. Just don’t stay stuck there and let bitterness eat you up. I remember when my mama’s death was so painful and fresh. I couldn’t figure out how to go on or why people were out shopping, eating, and just living when there was such a gaping void in my life.
The church tells us to rejoice that our loved one is in heaven and no longer suffering. That is true. However, we are the ones that have suffered loss. Don’t let anyone discount that. The pain is real. The void is there. What we humans must do is cope with the pain. Live with the pain. Remember the person. The time with her. The lessons taught. Celebrate the life that she lived. Don’t copy it completely per say. Find the guts to live the life the way you were meant to. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Grief must not be brushed aside. It must be practiced.
In the book a Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken, practices grief through writing letters to his wife and listening to her favorite music. My mother-in-law wrote letters to her mother to practice grief.
Grief is different for each individual, but ignored only turns into bitterness or depression. We must practice grief, tell our story to an empathetic listener and often work through doing the things that person loved to do.
I participate in many of the traditions that my mother taught me. At first they are painful to the point of ugly crying, but after a season, they become a comfort.
Grief can give physical symptoms as well as emotional. Grief can knock the breath out of you. It’s not a one time event, its a process that must be practiced. Don’t shy away from grief. Practice it according to your personality. Do the things your loved one loved even if that means crying all the way through the process. Tears are cleansing. Healing is a job. Don’t be hard on yourself. Allow the feelings to wash over you and process them in your way- journal, listen to music, see a counselor, hike, paint, bake, whatever it is, do it with your whole heart and your whole heart will be on the road to healing.
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