What I Miss About Grief (which is *almost* nothing, but still)
Not sure why I would hesitate...
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What I Miss About Grief (which is *almost* nothing, but still)
I want to share something both tender and easily misunderstood. (Not sure why I would hesitate when everyone so clearly understands each other these days—especially in digital spaces. Stop being so silly! I tell myself and bravely type on.)
Although I never miss the tight grip of raw grief—and I never ever miss the kind of staggering loss that conjures up grief—I can, at times, miss the space and solitude grief affords me (which is something I never thought I’d say. It almost feels like saying you kind of miss the food, though, after finally being released from prison). But when you’re grieving, the world passes you over for a time. You are off the hook. People stop expecting things from you (unless those people call you mom, of course). Emotionally, I mean. Even if you’re back at work, the people who know you, give you space. Or, if like me, and you’re on a maternity leave without your baby (or something like it), your days take on this fluid, unbroken-by-any-deadlines-other-than-a-time-to-sleep-and-wake-and-occasionally-eat-if-you-can-muster-it sort of shape. The hours become a river that simply run by as we stand, shocked by all the water, the way it could drown you; how had you never noticed this before?
In the weeks and months after Luca died, it was late spring into early summer. Even if you thinks the winter is too long and cold, this is the time of year New England reminds you why you love it. The beaches become hospitable, true sanctuaries. And there are so many to choose from, that you don’t often find whichever one you land at too crowded.
One summer I watched a guy and his retriever at a dock on the Charles river. The guy threw a frisbee effortlessly over the dock, and his dog gracefully caught it in its mouth before landing with the glorious kind of large and unselfconscious splash in the water that both dogs and kids have perfected before swimming back to shore. They did this over and over again and it felt therapeutic to watch. The agility, the courage, the tandem work between two different species. Even the consistency felt like good news, like some great things happen over and over again—dependably, even—and you don’t have to go far to witness it. You just have to be willing to pause, to stop and watch. All this to say, summer in New England is a promise fulfilled.
When I was grieving, everyone who knew me knew I needed something. They couldn’t give me what I needed the most—my son—so they tried to give me absolutely everything else they could think of. Food—so much food—and what a blessing that was. Beautiful, thoughtful dinners came night after night and it’s one of the most practical kinds of love I’ve ever felt. Also letters and notes and texts—words that managed to hold my heart tightly, proving the statement “nothing helps” blessedly wrong.
Every day, TJ would get home from work, and my sister would watch Charlee while he and I got to take a walk. At one point, people used the phrase, “constitutional walk.” This is because the idea of walking—getting fresh air, some exercise, some endorphins to run around in your brain, softening life’s blows—all of that was considered good for your “constitution,” or your whole self. And guess what, those old timers who had entire rooms just for sitting (sitting rooms, just imagine!) and balanced that with constitutional walks were really onto something. Turns out both of those things are necessary, and never more so than in grief. Because, see, in grief, we get a glimpse of how vast our needs are. We get to see plainly what has always been: we are not, just by the mere fact of existing, okay. We need help. We need. Maybe we’re standing and we need to sit. Or maybe we’re sitting and we need to walk.
In Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, the first of His eight profound principles known as the Beatitudes is this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
I don’t think Jesus is advocating that we try to not have enough of whatever we need. I don’t think he’s saying, “Be poor and struggle forever and I’ll make it up to you when you die.” I think he’s saying that there is an advantage to seeing reality: when left to ourselves, we have needs that cannot be fulfilled. I mean, we cannot even sustain our bodies without an outside source. We eat meals without realizing the sheer humility of it. At some point, there might be only a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that is standing between us and death by starvation. When we invite people over for dinner, we should really say, “Would you like to come over and use some chicken to prolong our deaths?”
We need other people to show us we belong. We need other people to love us and be loved by us. We need God to keep beckoning the sun to rise, our bodies to work, to help us forgive the people who wrong us, to forgive the wrongs we do. And when we realize we need all this—when we really glimpse it, which is what grief does for me; I see, undeniably, the stark difference between what is and what should be—we acknowledge that we are poor in spirit. We contemplate it. And although for much of life we are afforded the ability to ignore it—to eat or scroll or career climb or jump headlong into relationships that swallow us whole instead—here, in grief, we can’t. We are poor in spirit. We know it. And we will jump out of our skin if we can’t be alone to allow our bodies the space we need to mourn this. So we go on long walks and face it head on. Our poverty of spirit is as vast as the ocean and, since we can do nothing else, we throw off our clothes and jump in.
“Theirs is the Kindgom of Heaven.” This beatitude comes with a promise. It doesn’t end with noting how poor our precious selves are. It comes with greater clarity. We get to wake up, to stop being numb, to see life as it should be and mourn how often it falls short. There are old texts in the Bible that refer to us as “strangers in a strange land”—but often, if I am fully honest, I feel pretty at home here. I love these earthy things. I love peaches in summer, birthday dinners, Sunday mornings. I love the view of the ocean, the sound of the waves—a rhythm, a cadence of life like your mother’s heartbeat in the womb—I love this so deeply that I feel reborn every time I get to witness it. And we don’t have to stop loving these things—surely, they are here because they are ours to love—but I don’t love death. I don’t love suffering. I don’t love chaos and lies that tell us nothing matters so why try. And when these things become glaring, it is easier to remember that this world with all its shortcomings is not my home.
The Kingdom of Heaven exists, it’s just not quite here. This is why Jesus prays for it to be on earth “as it is in heaven.” Perhaps when we realize our own needs, when we are honest enough to ask for help, this is when God and our faith and desperation mingle enough for the peace, love, joy, mercy, patience, justice—the things that mark God’s land, or his kingdom—breakthrough here and now, right into our living rooms, right onto the pillows we soak with tears.
These times of solitude that grief drove me to cultivate—well, they did something in me that scrolling and snacking and spilling the tea with my friends could not. Those long walks in the woods, the hours I spent in front of my piano or writing down my thoughts—they dug deep wells that I still draw from.
I sometimes miss that drive to go be alone. It’s not as strong today. I am very grateful for this. I am not suffering today (again: I am very grateful for this). And I am not drawing away from the crowds quite as much. Partly because I live with them. Literally, my own tiny crowd wakes me in the morning and sometimes even in the night. They are digging another well in me, true, and I embrace this as well.
We would do well to heed the lessons grief teaches us. To continue the practices that get us through, to the extent that they are good for our soul and body. Regularly drawing away from the crowd to face down our own interior is a good practice. Even if we feel fine, it’s still a good one. Otherwise, we could grow numb. Otherwise, we could believe that the social media algorithms that shape the narrative is the truth. Or we could simply believe that what we see is all there is. We could eat the bread of apathy and decide that everything is fine.
Anyway, I don’t miss grief.
(At all, at all.)
But I do sometimes miss the drive grief gave me to get away, ponder life, and continue to ask for help because, surely, I can’t stay here; surely I must keep moving forward.
(Perhaps this whole essay could be summed up with this: I need to hire more babysitters.)
As you may or may not know, my husband TJ is back in morning radio, and once again answering the question “How do you get up SO early?!” with grace and a smile. His show is also in podcast form and you can listen to it here. I realize I’m biased, but his show makes me do real life, unapologetic lol’s at the gym. It’s great.
Also, the podcast that TJ and I do together is still going every other week. And recording it with him also makes me do real life, unapologetic lol’s (just not at the gym, because it’d be kind of strange if we recorded our podcast at the gym). Anyway, you can listen to that here.
I'm continually amazed at the ability God has gifted you to express your thoughts and feelings so clearly. They are deeply personal and yet universal. You are able to make me think more deeply about God and how he loves and wants to sustain me. Thanks for that.