I never intended to continue writing about grief, I can promise you that much. I seldom make promises, but this is one I know in the pit of my core I can keep. I never meant to allow grief to pour into me, wrap itself around my bones, and make a home tucked deep in my heart. And I promise, with every piece of me, that I never meant to let grief be the unwanted house guest that extends her stay and steals every last ounce of oxygen from my fragile lungs.
In the unwritten rule-book of life, time is supposed to heal all wounds, isn’t it? Time is supposed to take it all away — the unbearable, the painful, the uncomfortable, the unfathomable. Time is supposed to be our savior to the things that make our hearts ache and our bones heavy. Time is supposed to be the knight in shining armor that appears when we are at the end of our rope. And I guess in many ways, time does all of that. Time does cushion the blow. Time does make a lot of the unspeakable a little more palatable.
Time does heal.
But the cynic in me wants to tell you that time is a fickle little thing. Time, though often a healing balm, also makes my heart heavier. Time thickens the air and makes it colder around my winter bones and heavy heart. Time propels me forward, further from the loss, further from the sinking feeling of hearing the words, “you have to say your last goodbyes,” further from the crash and halt of sudden death. But time is a gut-wrenching, less-than-gentle reminder that someone that you loved so deeply is gone. That they should be here. That there is something that they’re missing. That there is someone that you’re missing.
They should be here for both the big and the small moments. They should have seen you graduate with your Master’s and start your career. They should be here to have coffee with you and catch up on old times. They should be here to reminisce on childhood memories, to laugh at your middle school wardrobes, and talk about that Valentines Day that you spent together during a snow storm, working together at the mall. They should be here to tell you that you are doing a good job, that they told you you’d do well in your career as long as you put your feet on the ground and ran straight head-first. They should be here to have dinner, the dinner that you kept pushing off because you thought you had time. They should be here to talk about the latest novel you read, or obsess over 90s TV dramas. They should be here to fight over whether or not Joey should have been with Pacey or Dawson. They should be here, sitting with you, or at least reachable on this plane, on the other end of the phone. There shouldn’t be a memorial Facebook page for them. There shouldn’t have been a photo of them at your high school reunion, as opposed to the live in the flesh. You shouldn’t have to visit them at their grave site. There shouldn’t be only memories of them to fill your heart.
Time can take a lot of things away, but time will never take away the fact that you get to grow older, that you get the luxury of fine lines around your eyes from laughing, or grey hair from aging, or candles on your cake because you get to celebrate another birthday — and for them, time will always stand still — at 44 for my aunt, or 18 for L, 19 for R, or 21 for P, or 82 for J, or 27 for D, or 32 for M.
Time has made a monster of me. It’s made me angry, it’s made me sullen, it’s broken my heart, made me helpless, and hopeless, and lost. These days, time is both healing and heartbreaking.
I want to have the words that heal this.
I want to pour every bit of how it feels to lose an aunt, or a friend, or a neighbor that was more or less a grandparent to you onto paper or onto this screen and make it all okay. I want to take my words and wrap them around the hearts of everyone I know and use them as a guard from the gut-wrenching feeling of having to say goodbye to someone they love. I want to be able to have the right words to say to make illness, and loss, and grief lighter.
But more than that, I want so badly to believe that if we just love people right, then maybe it would hurt less when they have to leave us. But the truth is, no matter how hard we love, or how many years we had with them, there will be moments when the grief pours over like a tidal wave.
You can love a person in all the right ways, but death will always hurt, and grief will always be lifelong. There’s no avoiding that.
Maybe if someone told me that instead of feeding me all the cliches that you say when someone dies, I would’ve been able to breathe easier. But, I guess there’s really no right or wrong thing to say when someone dies.
The truth is, I think it’s always going to be there. There will be days driving in my hometown, when I am brought back to that night in March 2008, where I was driving home after being stood up by a boy who turned my world upside down and a police officer told me to turn around and take a different route home. “There was a fatal car accident, you can’t go this way,” he said. There will be moments I remember waking up the next morning and finding out who died, after convincing myself the night prior that it was no one I knew There are moments when I pack up my stuff and leave work at the end of the night and remember what it felt like the night my cousin called me and let me know that they were taking our friend off life support — that the last conversation I had with her was a promise to hang out and recreate memories that we had together — memories that would be the only thing I have left of our twenty-year friendship. There are days I think back to college and think back to rushing home to see my friend in the hospital, but being too late. He was already gone long before I even got on the parkway. There will be days when I think back to the beginning of my career and being so excited to tell my neighbor, someone that held such a big place in my heart, that I got a foot in the door and was hired part time. But I never got to tell him that; I never got the chance to hear him tell me he was proud of me — because I knew he would be, because a stroke took away all the pieces of him that I knew and loved. There will be days when I watch home videos and see my aunt or a childhood friend and think to myself my God, this hurts. This hurts, but I’m still breathing. This hurts, but the memories keep me warm. This hurts, but I am lucky to have known them.
And then there are days like today, when the sky is a little darker, when my winter bones are heavier, when there is just so much illness and potential loss around me, that my heart completely shatters at the thought. There are days when the weight of pending grief, and the weight of reality– this is all a part of life, this is all a part of getting older, hits me like a ton of bricks.
And so I guess, just like everything else, grief is a process, isn’t it? An ebb and flow like the waves crashing or seasons changing. Some days, the tide pulls you in and other days, the sun is a warm reminder that someone out there is wrapping you up in their warmth, even if they can’t be there with you. Some days are warmer than others, but today… today, my winter bones are hollow and cold. Today, it’s a little bit cooler. Today, I miss a lot of people I will never see again in this lifetime.
Today is a reminder that grief is not something to complete, like a task on my to-do list. Grief is a process, a new way of seeing things — a new set of eyes and a new way of loving.
In November 2016, I sat quietly in a funeral home, hands in my lap, head down, tears streaming down my face as I heard the words, “mourning is the price we pay for loving someone.” As angry and hurt and heartbroken as I was on that very day, these are the words that have stuck with me and pitched a tent in my heart right when I needed them to. These are the words I tell myself on repeat on the days grief swallows me whole.
These are the words that I will leave you with today:
Mourning is the price we pay for loving someone.
And even if it stings, even if it hurts, even if it pulls me down and suffocates me — that is a price that I’m willing to pay, and I hope you are too.