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What does grief look like?

Grief is like the crazy aunt or befuddled uncle that the family tolerates and knows they’ll show up when least expected. We try to be gracious and civil, and we watch them with a wary eye—just in case they get out of hand. We try to appease them, bargain with them so their presence won’t be so disruptive, even scary.

But they are who they are. And we can live with them less fearfully as soon as we define our lives by who we are and not by our reaction to them.

What brings you here?

(A first prompt given at meeting of Kindermourn, where some of us in the writing group had gone to discuss our book)

Being a part of this writing group for 10 years and writing our book has put me in this place at this time. I am feeling a little uncomfortable because I am thinking that all the guests here have lost children through illness or accidents. Just as with my writing group’s first meeting, I am sensitive to the circumstances of Alex’s death—by suicide versus those children who die in other ways. I have reached the point where I certainly don’t feel apologetic or guilty or out of place because I have worked through some hard truths and reached gracefulness. But I am aware and sensitive to others.

[Post note: as it often does, fate determined that the needs of the group were met; one of the women attending this group had recently lost her teenage daughter to suicide. She had been encouraged to attend the meeting by a close friend who helped her overcome her hesitancy to attend because of the circumstances of her child’s death.]

Familiar Pain

(These thoughts were prompted by Betsy’s phrase in a recent posting, “familiar pain.”)

Nineteen years ago this week my son, Alex, took his own life. At age 25, he sought only to end the pain, the oh-so-familiar pain, that excruciating, permeating pain, the wall that separated him not only from people who loved him but also from any hopes for the future.

Obviously, it was not a rational decision. He would never have imagined that his death, and the release from his own burden, would then become what is now my familiar pain. Every year the clock keeps time to the last forty-four days of his life. And I have learned to ride along—recognizing the marked days, the sleepless nights, the flashes of memories, the heavy sighs, the patterns of grief.

I would have found it outrageously unbelievable if anyone had told me nineteen years ago that I would eventually regain an appetite for doing ordinary things—that I would, indeed, move to a higher level of living and being.

I do remember the consuming pain in the few months just after Alex died. The pain that takes your breath away in short bursts at times and feels like an elephant on your chest at other times. The fear that I would be “that way” for the rest of my life. The frustration of not wanting to go anywhere or do anything. Feeling like I was letting everyone down.

But it is true that there is space now from the fresh anguish, the paralyzing disbelief and pain of early 1994. Now there remains a familiar pain. It rests within, has a permanent place, as familiar as my droopy eye and the scar on my knee from a childhood fall, and I live with it. Every day. Every single day.