If there is one piece of advice I can share with someone who is grieving, it’s this:
The worst thing you can do is wait for your grief to pass.
Just months after the week I lost both my grandfather and my father, I was careening toward an emotional break.
Looking back, I’m not sure where I ever came up with the notion that grief is tidy and immediately transcendent. Or that the world was counting on me to just get on with my life.
When the sun would set and my house grew still each evening. When there was finally nothing else to do to avoid reality and nothing to distract myself with, another me would emerge. The me that felt like she was floating because she believed she was filled with nothing. It felt, more than ever, as if the tethers that bound me to this world were thread thin.
Exasperated with my inability to function in any normal capacity, I wondered why, when I was armed with optimism and a faith-centered outlook, my sorrow hadn’t yet turned a corner. I tried to force a peace with what happened. I was lying to myself.
No matter how much I tried, though, my days were spent slogging through silent misery. The more I tried to correct course and steer the ship, the more scattered and chaotic everything felt.
What I thought I was doing was carrying on. What I was actually doing was trying my hardest not to face my grief. I was hunkering down, waiting for the storm to pass. When in actuality, grief is not a storm. It doesn’t spin and howl, and then move on.
It settles in.
It’s like a volcanic eruption that changes the course and landscape of everything forever. It’s like a quiet cosmic shift. You have to find a way to live in a world that’s been leveled. In a world that does not entirely, if at all, resemble the one you knew before.
Signs of grief will always be there. You have to find a way to not allow grief and bitterness to have the final say over what really matters. Over what you do next.
Two years later, I still find myself startled from being triggered by seemingly insignificant things. I now live near the hospital my father died in. Most of the time, I drive past that brick and glass building, and don’t think about that day.
Other times, I remember the sterile hospital smell and cold tile floor like I’m standing in one of the hallways. I remember that day and try not to go crazy. I try not to stay there.
For so long, I clung to the memory of my life before. I desperately wanted to stay there, in the place before everything spun out of control. I thought moving on meant I was forgetting and letting go of the people I loved. That I was ceding some ground to tragedy.
I tried to compartmentalize everything. I fought to keep my grief contained so it wouldn’t swallow everything. It felt like a blackness that would taint everything. Grief was the name I wouldn’t dare speak.
And if I could separate everything then I didn’t risk losing everything.
It wasn’t until I realized grief went by other names that my guard could come down. It was another form of love, trapped love, and something I couldn’t avoid or I would lose so much that mattered to me. I realized grief didn’t dwarf any of the joy or diminish the good things I had to hold on to.
If anything, it magnified them.
When I let my walls down and grief enter into my broken parts, when I faced it, I finally realized its true purpose. Because there are some things grief cannot touch. And those happen to be the most important things. Things worth fighting for and savoring. And they stand tall in the face of the bleakest sorrows we can imagine.
It allows me even now to save myself when my heart breaks over and over again.
If there was one piece of advice I could give to the grieving person, it would be that the worst thing you can do for yourself is to wait for your grief to pass. For you to put your grief away.
Grief is terrifying. It can feel like some unnamed specter that always hovers close. And it does. Grief is now what reminds me of all that I have, all that I once had.
And when I finally asked for its real name, its name wasn’t grief.
It was hope.