Friday, May 26, 2017

The Gifts of Grief

There is no familiarity with grief.

Each time it comes knocking on our door it is slightly different than the last time it arrived without notice or invitation. Grief shifts and changes based on the one we’ve lost and our readiness for the loss. Not that you can ever really prepare yourself for a gaping hole in your world, in your heart. No, there is no such thing as being ready. I think all you can be is present. All you can do is stand together, holding tight to the hope that if you greet Grief united then maybe, just maybe, Grief will take the broken pieces of your hearts and mend them together. Not quite the same as they once were but still whole and strong. Just altered.

Last September, on the first day of school, our house was in a panic. All three of our kids were starting at new schools … again. We had moved … again. So that meant that everyone had to meet new friends, new teachers and be the ‘new kid’ … again. I sent them off in the morning and held my breath, for like 7 hours! As they walked in the door, one by one, all smiling and full of chatter about their day, I exhaled. Although the day wasn’t without missteps and a fair measure of anxiety, everyone survived and had at least a few positive things to share.

That night, as I crawled into bed I was utterly content. We had made it through the first day. I knew that the next few weeks would bring some adjustment pains and some fires to put out but at least for this one night everyone was safe and happy and looking forward to returning to school the next day. I sipped my tea and scrolled through our local newspaper for a few minutes as my husband drifted off beside me. Within seconds of opening the newspaper app, my contentment was replaced with fear then disbelief then dread and finally Grief.

There had been an accident. My husband’s lifelong friend had been killed in a tragic accident. And suddenly Grief was with us – again.

In the past few years, Grief has visited our doorstep frequently. Bullying, missed opportunities, friends’ betrayals, moving away, job changes, cancer and death have all ushered Grief into our world. We have wept, mourned, raged, questioned and wept some more. In time, all the pieces have settled and we’ve carried on. In time, our Grief faded as our hearts healed and we could see a future – albeit so very altered – again.

But this time, this loss, feels so different. It’s hard to explain but I feel like our Grief is attached to so many other people’s Grief. It’s nearly impossible to separate our Grief from the herd, from all of those who loved this vibrant, funny, loving man. This man who is so much a part of my man.

My husband, Brad, and his pal, Mike, spent their youth adventuring (and misadventuring) together. They discovered their mutual disdain for Mr. Clarke and their love for the outdoors together in high school. Their mischievous humor bloomed behind the counter at McDonald’s during late night shifts together. All their life’s issues and decisions were sorted out while cruising through town in Mike’s 1971 Ford LTD, affectionately known as the Sab-mobile. Their brotherhood was solidified in long hikes, endless pranks and soul-bearing conversations. Even though time and distance had affected their friendship in recent years, they were still brothers. And we have felt Mike’s loss every day of the past 9 months.

Grief. Grief has shaded our world and weighed on our hearts these 9 months. But Grief has also brought us an unexpected gift. Grief has brought us friendship. Deep, heart-wrenching, beautiful, healing friendship.

Brad and Mike and their circle of friends were very close through their teen years and into adulthood but, as often happens, they all drifted apart some as marriages and careers and family responsibilities grew. Some of the guys had kept in touch more than others but as families we never really connected much. But in the weeks following Mike’s death, all of these men, and their families, were pulled together by the magnetic force of their love and respect for Mike.

At first, our gatherings were slightly awkward and far too polite but as our minutes together turned into hours and our hours have turned into months, we have become a ragtag collection of healing souls. And at the center of it all is Mike’s girls. Mike’s wife, Bonnie and their three magnificent daughters. Their Grief is bringing us all together. And their love is healing us all.

I can’t explain how this has happened but somehow, in the midst of her heartbreak, Bonnie has given strength to us, she has validated our love for Mike and she has spoken words of healing to our souls. We all feel it. We all feel so loved and so strong because of Bonnie, because of Bonnie’s vulnerability and her Grief shared.

For so long, I have felt that Grief is a terrible thing. It’s an unwanted ruiner of all the beloved things. I have screamed at Grief. I have hated Grief. I have cursed Grief. I have worn Grief like a shackle around my heart. Grief has turned me into Jacob Marley, covered in chains and weighed down in endless loss. But because of Bonnie and her friendship I see Grief differently now. I see Grief as a healer, a binder of hearts and a repairer of souls. I see Grief as a common space to remember, a shared moment to love. I see Grief as one of the many ways to unite hearts.

Bonnie is a gift that Grief brought to me. She has allowed me to walk with her in her Grief. She has shared her love and heartbreak. She has hugged me so fiercely and so desperately that my own broken places have fused back together. She has spoken life to my husband and to my children. And she has given me the courage to love with abandon in the face of Grief.

Bonnie’s Grief is my Grief is Brad’s Grief is all of our Grief. Our Grief is because of Mike. Not because he died but because he lived – and loved – so well. Our Grief binds us together just as surely as Mike’s love introduced us all in the first place.

I don’t hate Grief anymore. I don’t even wish it away. Grief is the guest we invite into our world when we choose to love. Grief is the evidence of a treasure we hold dear. Grief is the guardian of our memories. Grief isn’t always raw and painful and traumatic, although it often arrives that way. Grief can be gentle and warm and healing. Grief can remind us of our strength. Grief can reshape our hearts and remind us to love. Grief can bind us together.

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