Grief, once introduced, is more a life long companion than burden carried or a stage of human experience.
The body of grief is lined out for the mourning. A wake. A one and done ordeal. You are to process these steps: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And it’s over. Hospice counselors hand you pamphlets to prepare you. They pack you a bag and a sack lunch for your journey with grief and say “see you soon”, implying the return trip to who you were before grief is guaranteed.
No, those stages you read about aren’t stations at a depot, they are mile markers; familiar landmarks. They are scars from old wounds, complete with ghost pains and tangible memories.
You see, grief and I are like distanced spouses reluctantly sharing a space. We pass each other in the hallways of my life and grief brushes against my shoulder to remind me that my obligations to him are never done.
The cycle recycles itself so many times. The trip is no one way roller coaster ticket. It is a carousel, tilt-a-whirl and journey where the scenery is monotonous, year over year, reflecting little change.
A birthday with no honoree, celebrations of parenthood whispered to a granite stone in a field, the holidays returning to pierce you with the undeniable acknowledgement of another year passed. This is the backdrop of life lived with grief in your passenger seat.
In my dreams I am returned to denial, as I hear my name in something that sounds like his voice. Even in my wakefulness I entertain this fruitless exercise…this impossible reach to reverse the clock, to say all the things, undo what was done, do what I could have, love better and deeper and more actively.
In my achievements I revisit anger, because I want to share with him and look for his pride in me again.
In my darkest moments, when I need him like air and I gasp for the want and the pain…in these times I bargain still – this for that, what if, if only I had. Even in my happiest moments I am found wishing a wish that no one ever wants to utter as they throw the coin into the well….just five more minutes.
Through each step, depression cloaks me, even in my brightness, because there is no resolution. There is only the void of where he once was.
This leads back to acceptance. Because this is gone, in the most solid form that “gone” can ever take. And acceptance is the hardest monster to face.
Acceptance finds you standing in front of your worst fears and saying “I see you, you are real”. It’s taking the cold hand of loss and walking forward into your life with your chin up, tears soaking your cheeks, in the reality that you can do nothing more than live without and if you’re truly brave, you do everything you can to live well.
In the end, the resolute knowledge is this: grief is not the monster I have painted him. Grief is a hard teacher, the disciplinarian who will only lead you forward when you hand him the ties of your spirit. Grief can teach you to love and to love like loss is just a half second tick away.
Grief, and his predecessor death, are a source of humility, strength and freedom to love like we are meant to love. Grief is sandpaper to the splintered soul, rounding out the edges of our hearts. To be refined by him you have to lean into him, breathe him in and learn him like a lover.
So we dance, this jagged pill and I, through a marriage of pain, deep longing and a bittersweet gratitude. We walk, watching the small changes as the years strangle out truths and exhume memories coated in a hazy, aching sentiment that only true loss provides.
My deepest marrow yearns to not know this force of emotion like I do, but I would not be me without it. I move onward, preparing myself for the onslaught when it comes and holding tight to the growth I feel from the pain. My heart oddly grateful that grief is teaching this reluctant me to live with more courage than I ever thought possible.