grief is a new chapter

The holiday season changes dramatically when you’ve lost a loved one. Grief invites itself to your table. It sits in an empty chair.

Pouring through similar blogs and posts, I’ve found that Thanksgiving and Christmas strike a solemn chord with most bereaved Americans. Though these holidays are significantly different without parents, for me, the approach of New Year’s Eve/Day has induced a tremendous amount of anxiety.

Last year I celebrated New Year’s Eve with a handful of close friends on a boat docked on Lake Union. A few minutes before the countdown, we scurried to the deck to survey the area for a proper vantage point. I shivered as I drew a swig of sweet champagne into my mouth. I tongued the bubbles, pressing them against the back of my chattering teeth. A canopy of fireworks erupted above the Space Needle. Sparks rained down on the city. Smoky air wriggled around the deck as it rose from the boardwalk below. Couples snuggled. Corks, wrenched from their cozy bottlenecks, released great bursts of sound followed by the fizzle of carbonation and an overwhelming sense of newness.

I masked an ashy sigh under the explosions. This would be the last day I could say “I spoke to my mom earlier this year.” In a few moments, this narrative would change, never to return to recency. In the closing seconds before 2015 began, I whispered farewell to that phrase. Uninvited came my new narrative: “My mom died last year.” 2014 would no longer be this year, but the year I lost my mom.

The next morning, I was shocked to find that my wall calendar had gathered dust. I went to dismount it from the nook near my front door and my fingers slid through its feathery film like children through virgin snow. I stared at my grimy fingertips in horror. Time did not stop that April and here on my hands was the unsettling evidence. I panicked. Was my loss so long ago?

This year left me with a liminal sense of my loss being so near and yet also so far gone. One day I’ll not open the door to the heartache and the next it will crash through and come to swallow me up without warning.

Colette – my mother’s favorite author – once said:

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”

This I find to be unequivocally true. I read this and I feel the calendar dust between my fingers as one would a phantom limb or an olfactory memory. I think of those Tuesdays I spent crying into an envelope I’d kept with my name in her writing. I think of our stoic faces at our meeting with the funeral home.

On the first anniversary of her death, we spread my mother’s ashes in a dewy evergreen cove behind my sister’s house. When we emerged from the thicket, an ethereal rainbow – quite uncharacteristic of Washington, despite our rain – split the heavens above us:

image

At that moment, more so than January 1, it felt like a new year. Perhaps it was the breathtaking dichotomy of the darker and lighter skies before us. Regardless, my narrative had changed yet again, and I experienced it quite differently – I nigh embraced it. It gave me an uneasy hope. In that moment, I accepted that every moment will usher in a new mystery of uncertain changes.

Grief is a new chapter. It is cloying, heartrending, bitter, and unyielding. It only begins after something ends. It is uncharted, but holds the promise of new happiness and a reverence for the past.

I leave you with one question:

What or whom do you leave behind this year? 

 

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grief is [procrastination and] the fear of being loved

It’s been over a month since I posted the title to what I thought would be my first blog post – “grief is a stolen pocket knife.” Each day I come back to it wanting to expound on my fury, anxiety, and feelings of utter bereavement, but find myself held back by what I now believe to be a fear of being loved. I make excuses (“I’m writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month so I shouldn’t have to write about my grief!”) and push it off until the date is so far out I become embarassed that I even thought anyone wanted to read my writing in the first place. Then I remember: people do want to read my writing in the first place. Is it that I’m afraid they’ll like it, or even love it?

I received three texts from my good dear friend Sally a few weeks ago:

Sally: Where the content!

Sally: *where is

Sally: Just excited to see what you will write 

How was I going to tell her that the night before I sat crying at my keyboard, wanting so badly to share yet felt completely paralyzed with the fear of being loved? She, a blossom of wisdom, would tell me how silly I was being.

Why does one fear being loved when they have experienced loss? 

The answer to this question undeniably varies for each person experiencing grief. In my case, connecting with others made me feel vulnerable and afraid that I’d sully the strong image I’d made for myself. Could I be stoic if I let people know what a mess grief could make me? I knew I had great plans for my blog – that eventually I’d write about the habitual everyday things like brushing your teeth or binging on Netflix because life doesn’t stop after you lose someone you love. I wanted to normalize grief and create a space for sharing the undiscovered crevices of this robust and inescapable part of life. To do that, though, I couldn’t overlook the harder parts of grief.

What was so triggering about writing about the pocket knife?

How could I express how robbed I felt the day someone broke into our car and took one of the very few earthly gifts that my mother gave me before she died? The easy answer would be to write unconditionally – to drown out the editor in my brain that hates this very sentence (and the ones before it). The best way to do that, I concluded, would be to let myself make mistakes.

Grief is [procrastination] and the fear of being loved. For there to be procrastination, though, there needs to be an end product (otherwise it’s just not doing anything at all). This first post is what I’ve postponed. I leave behind a crack in my fortitude by refraining from deleting my incomplete first post. I spurn my inner editor and press publish without abandon.

I leave you with one question:

What fear do you have right now, and what is it preventing you from doing?