For the first time in my life, I love being asked what I do. I’m still finessing the language around what I say so that it makes sense to people, but the internal cringe that accompanied that question since I graduated college is gone. My answer tends to elicit one of two reactions. People either respond with some version of, Wow, how interesting, that’s great, quickly changing the subject, or they launch into a story about grief. I love those conversations. They get real, fast.
I met a woman the other day whose husband and son-in-law died of cancer and now her oldest daughter is in the final stages. She’s taken herself away to an island to die, leaving her young daughter with her new guardian. The family is in turmoil, trying to get her to come home. She talked, I listened, until she felt her emotions rise up and stopped herself, moving back to the task at hand. My heart broke for them all.
Last week I walked the Picking Up the Pieces guide over to my neighbors’ house. I want to know if it holds any value for someone whose intense grief is over twenty years old. As we sat and talked about life and death, fear and time, I saw tears in the husband’s eyes, witnessing again the truth of you never get over it.
You never get over it.
(You will never again be the person you were before.)
Why do we think we should? Because the bible of mental health diagnoses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) gives 2 months for bereavement? Because most employers give 2 or 3 days? Because our rituals around death are over within weeks and if it’s not a death you’re grieving, you likely have no ritual to support you at all?
Grief is baptism by fire. It feels like more than we can stand. It tears our skin off and we walk, naked and raw, through the world. We shut down, or we hide, or we go a little crazy. We cry in the grocery store or we laugh at inappropriate moments or we get over-the-top angry when we burn our toast. If we’re lucky, through it all, we carry that seed of hope, of knowing, deep inside that tells us we will eventually be okay.
You will be okay.
(I know this.)
It is my privilege to hear these stories, to bear witness to love and loss, fear and pain. It is a gift to have my heart broken open and still get through the day whole. It is my journey to hold space for these intense experiences, these feelings that pull us under and make us gasp for breath. It is, finally, my pleasure to answer the question, What do you do?
Thank you, my sweet son, for changing my life. I miss you like crazy. I love you.