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Grief and Healing
Words by Courtney O'Connell
Image by Gretchen Gales
I guess you can't fully understand grief until it is busy suffocating you, like a lot of things in life that we must someday experience against our will. Through this suffocation, you suddenly gain insight of exactly how that painful lump forms in your throat and sits there for seconds, minutes, hours, days or sometimes weeks until you cant hold it back anymore. In protest, you try to push it down and argue with reality. No, no, no this cant be happening. The body, however, always wins. You always give in. You have no choice but to let that lump burst, that wave to crash down and wash over you. Then suddenly you are tumbling around in the wave, disoriented by sorrows unexpected strength. You transform into a puddle on the floor, snot and tears pouring out of your face. Through the teary blur of the floor, your loved one's face appears. They are laughing and talking in another time. Their unique smell enters your nose. Cigars on the porch, cologne on button shirt collars, a splash of vanilla, and lots of hairspray. They say your name affectionately, a nickname that only sounds best coming from them. Your ears are ringing now.
Then comes the bad memories. The fights and the things you wish you hadn't said that you know hurt them once. And you think of the illness that stole them from you, which still leaves you feeling bitter. Eventually, you cry even harder somehow because the finality of them being gone means you will never again have any of those nicknames, unique smells, and conversations. Those moments are gone and no longer part of your reality. You must carry on just like they did when they lost someone close, like countless generations before them. You must find a way to put one foot in front of the other and just get on with things.
Grief is going to your mom's house and helping her sort through treasures once owned by the recently dead. It's her opening up your grandfather's silver brief case with all his notes, sketches, and old yellowed business cards perfectly in place and somehow not screaming. It's holding the box your grandmother— who died only a month before your grandfather— is in, her ashes feeling like heavy granular pieces of her bones. These are the bones that once held you when you were a baby, that hugged you too many times to count. It's trying to strain to smile and laugh to get through the moments after their deaths, because you know they would want you to be happy in this life no matter what. It's turning away and quietly crying in the corner while your mom unpacks another treasure because you don't want her to see the tears in your eyes, tears that will only make more tears in hers. She's cried enough. It's trying to be strong for others you love who are grieving too.
Grief is uniquely ours when it's our time to experience it. We don't know what it is and what we will do with it until it's ours to sit with. Sometimes it happens before death. In the days and years leading to the grave. It can come from the arguing and hard decisions about where to put a confused man's wife when her Alzheimer's really starts to kick in. Or when the decisions are taken away from him when his health also begins to fade. It comes in creating the wills, handling monies, and selling properties filled with memories. It's in their familiar faces that grow more and more unfamiliar as their disease digs in for their last moments on earth. It's in seeing them fade slowly, then much too quick. It's feeling relief once their bodies have expired knowing their minds are no longer lost and diseased and broken.
Grief is knowing the little girl kicking within my gut as I write this will never meet her great-grandparents, the people who influenced her own mom in so many ways and gave her some of her most cherished memories. She must be able to feel the cocoon around her shake when I cry because I miss them. She must hear me catch my breath when another wave washes over me. I have to stop and let it pass; they'll grow fewer with time. Grief makes me realize that my daughter will experience the same sad feelings when she loses someone she loves, and that I will never be able to shield her from those moments of loss. As her mother, I begrudgingly cannot protect her from everything, especially death.
Grief can feel like an unwanted figure hovering over us akin to the proverbial black cloud, but it turns out there is much to be learned while blindly fumbling through it. Yes, it is a dark place, but it does not last forever. And when we come out the other side, we are the wiser for having gone through it. We better understand now what that heaviness is that sits on a friend or coworkers' shoulders, how it may make them forgetful or not at their best. Instead of scrolling past a death announcement on social media, we need to stop to say something encouraging and loving, because that helped us get through our own grief. It helps us really mean those healing hugs and words when given to another, offering a path to healing though our gained insight. We learn to heal others through healing ourselves.
And what better way to honor the ones we have lost than through extending the love and compassion to others that was extended to us all of our lives.
I dedicate this piece to Louise and Raymond DeLong who were always there for their family and friends. Who would extend those words and hugs when needed most. Thank you for years of unconditional love and fierce devotion to your family. Your legacy lives on.
8/6/2017 06:54:35 am
Hey guys, I am so exited to share my testimony of getting my husband back after he left me and our 3 kids for another woman. After 12 years of marriage, me and my husband has been into one quarrel or the other until he finally left me and moved to California to be with another woman. i felt my life was over and my kids thought they would never see their father again. i tried to be strong just for the kids but i could not control the pains that torments my heart, my heart was filled with sorrows and pains because i was really in love with my husband. Every day and night i think of him and always wish he would come back to me, I was really upset and i needed help, so i searched for help online and I came across a website that suggested that Dr Unity can help get ex back fast. So, I felt I should give him a try.
8/14/2017 09:54:17 pm
This moves me beyond anything else I've read about this uniquely isolating experience. It's also a reminder to our share love and caring with those that have just begun this very difficult journey. Thank you, so beautiful and touching. Valerie Breen
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