The Familiarity of Grief

It’s the same every time. The news is delivered. My mind reels and spins and pivots, and this new information just bangs into nondescript barriers inside my brain. I can actually feel the information bounce around inside my head. Then my jaw drops and my eyes sting with tears and my throat starts to close. My traps tighten. The tiniest beads of sweat form in the triangles between the bridge of my nose and the inside corners of my eyes. Then back to reeling, spinning, pivoting, as the pinball inside my brain ricochets some more. By now, my inner dialogue begins the volley of “yes,” “no,” “yes,” “no,” while my mouth simply squeaks out, “What? Wait. WHAT?” Then more stinging and restricting as I’m literally choked by my new reality – the reality of a world without someone I love in it. My world is so rudely physically and spiritually transformed, without warning, in the blink of an eye. In the snap of a finger. In a literal instant. Someone I loved has been physically removed from earth.

This is the familiarity of shock. This is the familiar process of receiving the news that a loved one has died unexpectedly. The process has become so familiar, yet it remains just as uncomfortable every time it happens. The entire process has been the same for me since 1994. I imagine it’s similar for most people. Or maybe everyone has their own way of processing this type of news; but for me, I go through this exact scenario each time. And even though the process is the same, the pain is unique and fresh and awful because every loved one is unique and missed in different ways.

In a way, over the years, the familiarity makes things a little easier as I know what to expect. Instead of being surprised by it, I anticipate the shitstorm that is grief, so the surprise factor is eliminated and it’s one less thing to have to deal with. Knowing what is happening, what will happen, and that it won’t be raw like this forever is helpful to know, even if it does nothing for the actual pain itself. Knowing what questions my brain will need answered and which ones are better left unknown can only come from experience. But as I mature in my faith and my lived experience, I also accept that there will be questions I want answers to but will never receive. I take comfort in the belief that if those questions are still burning in me the day my own soul leaves this earth, they will be made known to me. Experience has taught me that regrets and feelings of guilt and anger and resentment as well as joy and relief and unhinged honesty are all normal and to be expected.

What grief has taught me the most over the last 27 years is that you must truly experience it in order to learn from it. You can’t teach someone how to grieve or how to respect the fragility of life. It’s something they must experience for themselves. It’s an unfortunate but beautiful paradox that when we lose someone they are most present with us. And it is only through the grieving process that we heal from such a loss. Grief is good and awful at the same time.

I lost someone today. To be honest, I didn’t like him much, but I sure did love him. And he sure did love me. I hope wherever he is now, he can understand the complexities of how I’ve felt about him for so long. I hope he knows how much I truly loved him and what an absolute asshole he was and that deep down I really understood why.

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