In a couple days it will officially be ten years since Rachael was stolen from us. This anniversary gnaws at my insides. Ten years. She’s been dead for a third of my life. Eventually, I will have more photos and memories that do not include her. It’s confusing and overwhelming to try to integrate her loss into the grand scheme of my life. I grieve her.
But, what is grief? Is it possible for this one word to describe the full range of emotions related to life without her? Losing her? Living with her death? At my teen grief group we talk about grief being a journey or a weight – that it’s different for everyone. What does that really mean?
Grief is described medically as the natural response to loss – most usually in states of bereavement. It is cataloged by a variety of internal emotional responses, behaviors and even physical reactions. Most famously, grief is described in stages (shock, denial, bargaining, anger, and acceptance). But many grief counselors will tell you that these stages are deceiving and not all-encompassing. Grief can trigger greater psychological disturbances like depression and anxiety or physical stresses like a suppressed immune system. Grief can get complicated and messy. Grief can also be normal with the simple complication of learning to live without the presence of your loved one.
I understand the logical description of grief. I get the charts of emotional responses and the therapeutic checklists of normal versus complicated. But how do we describe what grief feels like? How do we define grief in terms of our own lives?
In A Grief Observed, C.S Lewis beautifully and candidly states, “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.” And it does feel like fear; it feels like all expectations and beliefs and plans must be re-examined with no definitive answers. Some other ways that we describe grief in metaphor are:
As a Journey. Perhaps the idea of stages, cycles, and varying emotional states is what makes grief feel so much like a pathway to some solution. Often, when we look at grief as a journey it feels as though we are searching for where it takes us … to the end. As though somehow it is a constant exploration. Life is, more accurately, a journey. I think of grief as being part of a persons journey-story, and sometimes that part prevails. And sometimes that part is lessened with time. And sometimes it passes through life’s journey in stages or cycles. And sometimes it does not.
As a Weight. Grief is also often described as a weight. The emotions that develop from the absence of our loved can feel heavy, weighty, and distressingly suffocating. But this weight can, and in most healthy grief developments will, become easier to bear. One woman described grief as a brick that she stuck in her pocket. She said in the beginning the weight of the brick in her pocket was overwhelming. She was constantly aware of its presence. With time, she became used to the brick’s weight and some days even forgot it was there. But it did not go away because her loved one was not un-dead; it simply integrated into her life and she learned to live.
Tonight the best I can do is to say that “grief” is the only word I have to describe the space between Rachael and I. Whether I journeyed here, or I’m feeling the weight in my pocket; whether I’m examining fear or spinning through stages; grief, tonight, feels like a deep distance between us. As though I am standing on one precipice and staring across an expanse that sheds no light on the facing cliff, where I believe she is standing and staring back. I can’t hear her or see her and I don’t know how far away she is – but I do, with every ounce of my being, believe she is out there. So in ten years, I’m still over here looking out there. I still grieve her. And despite the mountain of new memories and photos, I still look across hoping that she is silently and invisibly still a part of it all.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
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