It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.
― Lemony Snicket,
Death is a horrible business. The loss of two young lives this week, unrelated to one another, one a young wife and mother, the other, a sixteen-year-old son and brother. Both loved deeply by their people. Our significance, yet impermanence revealed. Suffering in life contrasted by relief in death. Deep, gut-wrenching sadness in loss, joy in remembrance. Both/And.
Grief, that thing which appears both terrifying and remarkable, horrific and lovely, the most difficult yet the most important. This work is essential while at the same time full of confusion and uncertainty. One can sob wildly and laugh uncontrollably, one can fantasize of the life returning, grateful for the end of suffering. The loss, a gaping vast wound, the memory returning over and over and over again, a consistent notice of the vacuum left behind.
Grief carves a canyon in our souls, twisting and winding through our daily existence, layers revealed at the most inconvenient of times. Grief as precise as a surgeon, excises, no corner, no surface, no emotion, no experience unexamined, unturned. The full work breathtaking and complete, renders us powerless in its clutches. The canyon walls slowly etched into a brilliant tapestry, layer upon layer of occasions, regret, memory.
Nerve endings exposed in the carving. The largest and tiniest of fibers poking out of the sediment, all requiring attention.
We are always left with a choice. Do we choose the numbing path or the feeling path? How does one choose this most uncertain, terrifying, unpredictable road? The grief will deal with us, somehow, someway. In choosing to feel, in the working out, the sifting, wrestling, the nerves become the most awe-inspiring parts of the tapestry, adding depth and shine to the walls, erected in the memory of our desperately loved. The holy work of grief more and more complete, revealing the unique truth and beauty of an imperfect life.
As a girl, just shy of 12, I stood over my unmade bed weeping. Never was I required to change the sheets. This was my mom’s work. She was gone now, it was up to me. Her life taken by a brain aneurysm at the too-young age of 37, leaving behind a young husband and four children.
While I wouldn’t wish the pain upon anyone, none of us get to escape. Grief is terrifying, the belief we may never return from the places we must go. But we will. This is the complete work, the work that allows us to move forward, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, so we can someday dream again.This work is essential, the other side revealing light, grace, knowledge, solidity.
A friend recently asked what I thought my life would be like if Mom were still alive. I have no idea, for I couldn’t answer, nor did I need to. Why wouldn’t I want my mom alive? Yet, who would I be now? Would I be married to the same man, live in the same wonderful state, have my three remarkable children? Would I be me…this person I’ve come to love? Questions with no answers.
Grief allows us to become, allows us to journey along life’s paths, growing.
Grief allows us to honor the authentic lives of those we’ve lost. When grief is done well, martyrs and saints are not manufactured, only real people celebrated with weird quirks, preferences, fear, desires, joy, sadness.
Grief allows us to carry our loved ones near, fueling the love and care of others, the love and care of ourselves. We can be light, hope, strength in the world, full of compassion, empathy and truth -motivated by a touch of pride piled high with heaps of wonder and grace. There is no room for shame, for we have done and will continue our work.
A limp will always remain, a reminder of the journey, the valley, the process. This is good news. I want to remember. My voice still catches in my throat, tears quick to surface, still surprising me after all these years. I will never be over her, for she will always stay with me. My grief ensures she will never be lost.
It is good, this work is good.
Life is very good.