You know what they don’t tell you about grief?
It’s fucking rich.
Don’t get me wrong. When it first comes and then when it keeps on coming, even years and decades later like it’s that very first day, it’s not rich. It’s dense and it’s dark and it’s overwhelming and it feels so real, like the whole world is actually ending. It feels so thick that you can touch it. It feels like you’re drowning in it. It courses through your veins like acid and sits upon your chest like an anvil. Sit with someone who’s in the early throes and they will tell you that it’s only deep. They will tell you that there’s no way out. That there is no through, that there is no other side. It takes over everything.
You have to get used to the acid. You have to feel the anvil breaking each of your ribs. And then you have to take a breath. And then you have to take another one. Even though each breath presses against what’s broken, presses back against the pressure.
I’ve done it but I can’t tell you how. Somehow, I’ve gotten to this place where I can feel this beautiful richness. How my grief has brought me closer to myself, revealed myself to me. I can feel the ragged edges of myself with the way it’s shaped me. I can see now, everyday, that I am someone new, someone I like better, someone I never would have become without all of my grief and loss.
I went to a storytelling evening called Grief Rites. Each person stood up there and told us about themselves. Told us about the new shape they are in because they lost their mom or dad or son or sister. Each one shared about how profoundly and fundamentally changed they are. How they don’t know how to live in this world without their love and at the same time, telling us exactly how they are doing it. Through tears and laughter and gut wrenching fear and deep, down, dirty joy. With gratitude. Because they were here with us. Because their presence changed us and shaped us and re-formed us as much as their absence has, sometimes more.
It’s fucking rich. I sat there listening, laughing, crying, nodding my head because I understood, feel horrified and overjoyed. I sat there feeling grateful. For the first time. Listening to others tell me what I’ve told myself a million times but in their unique way, from their own experience. Watching these people as they grapple and struggle with this inevitable human experience, I thanked God for my grief. Not the loss, not that my son is not here with me but for the richness I have been given. How much more human I am. How more intricate and intense my fear is, how much less afraid I am. How much more acutely and accurately I feel joy and pleasure in my life for knowing so many long hours of their absence, for fearing neither would ever return to me. I thanked God for my grief. For how it’s asked me to explore myself, spelunk the deepest, darkest places of myself. How it asked me to be bitter and angry and spiteful and hateful and so inhumanly unhappy. And how I did that, and sometimes still do. And how now my grief askes so much grace of me. So much forgiveness, so much compassion, so much empathy. How it’s asked me again and again to find words of comfort, words of connection, words of understanding to share with others. How it sits me squarely and completely in awe at other’s abilities to sit with their own excruciating pain and to tell me about it. To share, with tears and swear words and shaking hands, how they think they will die from it and then don’t.
How do we do it? I have no fucking idea and I’ve done it. I’ve sat there myself, bawling and swearing and shaking and needing to get out of this skin that’s burning with acid just under the surface. I’ve known that the world has ended and that I’ll never be the same again and so what is the point of going on? I’ve watched the secondary and tertiary losses in my life fall away: from fertility to relationships to my inability to take care of myself to my career path veering off into another unknown to my inability to give a shit about things that were once so intensely important to me.
I don’t know how we do it except in the sharing of it. Except in those moments when we give each other the gift of our story. In watching each other navigate these waves that keep pulling us under, smashing us against the rocks before lulling us to sleep or incapacity or a moment’s respite. In sitting together and crying and nodding because we understand so well. How these moments turn into scar tissue on our hearts. Little by very, very little how we heal each other up. Never forgetting, never not being changed, never not grieving. We can heal while simultaneously grieving. In fact, there’s no other way. That’s something else they don’t tell you.
It’s in the telling. It’s in the relating. That is where the richness reveals itself to us. If we’ll only keep on talking and listening and feeling it. Only then, slowly and unsteadily, wil we find ourselves again.
If you are in the Portland, Oregon area, please consider attending a reading at Grief Rites. The first Monday of every month at Post 134 on NE Alberta. I’ll be reading on March 7th.