It's been 9 years since I wrote the following for the Open to Hope website. Seems so long ago, and yet, just like yesterday. I hope this piece will speak to those of you who are dealing with new grief.
It’s associated with pain, hardship, suffering, endless days of crying and never seeing the sun. It’s hard – tough on the body, spirit and mind. No one wants to have to go through grief. All hope to avoid it.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “grief” as the media does – intense mourning. I know that’s true because when Daniel first died, the agonizing pain was intense. To walk into a store was painful. Seeing my surviving children and knowing that from now on Daniel would not be with us on earth again crushed every nerve.
But the dictionary, like the media, fails to take the meaning of this word a step further. Grief is defined as though it is a process with an ending. This leads our society to believe that one day, you lose your grief, as you have lost your child. As the years have gone on, I am under the impression that my grief, and that of fellow bereaved parents, will hold no ending. As long as we live on this earth without our children, we will miss them, love them, mourn for what might have been and therefore, grieve.
Granted, grief may not be as intense. For this, we are grateful. If the rest of our lives would entail the fierceness of fresh grief, how could we ever breathe normally again or function as civilized members of society? No one can live on a wild out-of-control roller coaster of emotions for all of life.
Nan Tanner, editor of Inspired to Journal, writes: “I am functioning on my guts right now. Whatever I feel like doing, I do it. I’m in a no-nonsense frame of mind, and I like it. It’s empowering, and I can feel it’s a direct result of loss and grief.”
Tanner, who has suffered the loss of her father, put it quite well. I know that feeling of boldness that new grief can give you. Nan says she feels like steel.
It is amazing to me that while we are crushed by grief, we are also empowered by how it can make us determined to stand up more for what we believe in, not take any slack from anyone and be in that no-nonsense frame of mind.
Is this a gift? Could it be that grief, with its endless component, is really a gift to be opened and dealt with, and used for our benefit?
Recently, just before Daniel’s would-be-tenth-birthday, a college friend who knows that since Daniel’s death I have collected watermelon objects, sent a box filled with dishes and other items – all with the red, green and white motif. Being able to cry when I opened my watermelon package was a gift. Writing a poem later that week in memory of Daniel and using the watermelon theme, was an added bonus. Sending the poem to friends and other bereaved parents was a tribute to Daniel. Praise for the poem and remembrances of Daniel were given to me.
People establish funds, scholarships, start newsletters, write books and plant trees – all in honor of some loved one who has died. Mourners put their grief to work in order to honor and carry on the love they hold for the one they can no longer embrace. Grief is not always in the obvious and expected form of tears. Some might think that a person no longer with tears is no longer in grief. Many tears do not reach the eyes but are forever present in the heart.
So what is grief? It is a mixture, a hodge-podge, a collection of emotions that range from one end of the scale of human feelings to the other end. Grief causes us to act and react.
As I listen to the crickets and bullfrogs near Daniel’s memorial tree, I pen some of my thoughts on what grief has been for me:
Grief is laughing with your children and wishing for the absent one to make the circle complete.
Grief is crying in your car at stoplights.
Some days grief makes you brutally honest; other days, grief muzzles you.
Grief reconstructs your heart.
Grief is sadness, hope, smiles and tears – rolled tightly like a snowball.
Grief makes you search past the stars and the moon for Heaven.
Grief strips you of everything you were pretending to be.
Grief gives you new priorities.
Grief opens hidden treasures from deep within your soul.
Grief allows you to empathize more deeply with others who ache.
Grief makes you unapologetically bold.
Grief is a daily companion, best dealt with by admitting you do walk with it, even after all these years.
Grief is the price of love; grief is a gift.
Allow yourself time to listen to the sounds of the night and write what grief is to you.