Understanding Grief

winter snow birdI woke up at 5:42 a.m. crying. I don’t remember if I dreamed, and I’m thankful I slept. I’ve gone to the dark place again, which is a short walk for me, just underneath the surface. I try to keep the door to this place closed and locked, but it opens on its own, turned by a trigger of some sort – a memory, a song or words that remind me of a loved one, or in this case, closing my work for the afternoon to see the headline staring at me about the children in the school. I can hear my 7 year-old breathing on my bedroom floor, where he picked to sleep. He doesn’t  know what’s happened in Connecticut and I asked his older brother and sister not to mention it around him, though I’d been upset all day and trying not to let him see.

Writing helps me find peace, lets out a bit of pressure I feel building in my heart. I’ve imagined it as letting air out of a tire. I feel better when I’m through. After living 30+ years with the ruminating dark thoughts, the label that stuck was Eckhart Tolle calling it a “pain body.” I got it. The best way to avoid the pain body taking over is to avoid those triggers, which is why I usually don’t read the news, too distressing, and it’s absolutely forbidden to click on links. I definitely don’t watch it on television. Seeing the words doesn’t give the sensory overload that TV does. In the case of Newtown, it was my way of keeping the story away from my little one. Empathy is a good thing, it’s what calls us to care and help, but it also opens the door when I feel too much too deeply.

I’ve been editing my short story collection on grief, “Hope Floats,” which is also peppered with essays about my own grief. I talk hopefloatscovernookabout the book in my last post, but what I realized when I saw them all as a body of work is that we are left with hope that we can all survive loss, though we are changed by it forever. I am who I am because I was estranged from my mother at four and raised by my grandparents and lost many people as I grew up, a classmate in 7th grade to suicide, a friend who tried to stop his drunken friend from hurting anyone but got killed himself when we were 19, and even as an adult, turning on the news one night and seeing the top story is about a friend who’d been gunned down in his garage. You know that house, you take a tour of the house in your mind. It’s unfathomable – shocking – that such things happen, and yet they do, and they continue to. Certainly you don’t want it to “define” you, but it becomes a big piece of the puzzle of your personality and the filter by which you make decisions, and a lens in which to see the world.

I’ve tried to understand grief in my writing. It’s a heavy state – the lead heart, the twisted stomach, the sting and pinch of tears – holding back and then letting go. It’s so physical, a true heartsickness, and yet I want the hopeful ending, for them, for you, for us.

From Dating da Vinci:

Another unfortunate side effect of widowhood wasn’t just the mess that my life had become, but the physical piles of grief everywhere I turned. I had become Linus and Pigment from Peanuts all rolled into one, only my security blanket was around my heart. … Neatness became a part of my past like so many other things: happiness, joy, adventure, love.

From Fixer Upper:

My grief had layers, and I imagined it was something like the Grand Canyon: fresh grief laid over old, erosion evident but never washed away for good. Bottom layer: Carter. Middle layer: my father. Top layer: Trevor. No wonder I felt my heart had a cavernous hole in it.

And from Hope Floats, “The Happy Place”:

I stared at the casket in front of me, but all I could see was the rectangular box from the Frigidaire Thomas had bought me for our fifth anniversary. Billy had played in the box for a week, until it could no longer withstand his creativity. Each time we crawled through, we would arrive in a new world. It became a secret tunnel in the woods where magic trolls lived, a pirate ship lost at sea, and a portal to another dimension. Planet Zingon, where all the superheroes vacationed. Cowboyland, where John Wayne and Clint Eastwood taught you how to fight bad guys. And, my personal favorite, Sugar Hill, where everything was sweet and edible.

“The grass tastes like apples,” Billy had said with authority, “and the trees’ bark is Hershey’s chocolate.” My favorite.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to live here forever?” he had asked as we sat on the strawberry taffy couch. “Where everything makes you happy?”

Wishing you comfort and peace as you mourn and blessings and gratitude for those we love.

2 thoughts on “Understanding Grief

  1. What often comes up for me related to grief (and which I can feel physically as you describe) is regret – which sometimes feels a bit like grief in advance…that’s going to hurt…

    Thanks for sharing & be well~

    • Thank you for commenting. Your comment made me think about the surrounding emotions and for me, I’d say guilt is right behind it. I have intruding thoughts every now and then about not going to see my grandfather’s band more. My kids were little and I was so exhausted by the weekend, but I wish I’d gone. I do have a recording of him singing two songs, so I’m thankful for that.

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