After my mom and brother died within 6 months of each other, back in 1996,I took a year to grieve and then began volunteering with hospice. Over time I studied and took courses on end-of-life issues, bereavement support, spent time with those who were dying, and became formally employed with various hospices. I volunteered at Liberty State Park following 9/11 and served as crisis response captain. Ultimately, I left my hospice position to start my own non-profit supporting women grieving the death of their moms. Daily I wrote curriculums for our groups, networked with others in the support community, facilitated numerous groups…I did it all. Which is to say, I knew everything there was to know about grief, even while knowing I could never know everything. And I was good at what I did.
And then Chuck died and you know what? I realized I knew shit, even taking into account the deaths of my mom and brother. Those deaths, yeah, they rocked my world right off of its’ axis, but it was nothing to what this has been. And I know that if I ever facilitate a support group again, it will be from an intensely different place.
I’d give more space to just talk about the now each person is experiencing. The future means nothing to those who are newly grieving. And newly grieving is whatever is defined by the person who is grieving; two months, two years, two decades. Whatever. That is theirs to define, not mine. I wouldn’t even mention the word healing. A little over 2 years in, that word still has no meaning for me. It carries with it some vague sense of the future, and I not only can’t envision a future, I have no interest in a future, because it means years without my husband.
I used various grief models when I facilitated groups. We all know, of course, that grief is not linear. If we look at a linear model at all, then we allow that it’s a back and forth Texas Two-Step. So, wishing to be more exact, I presented grief as a spiral; up and down, back and forth, in and out. Which I can comprehend a bit more easily but it still doesn’t hit the mark for me. Of course, all of this is based on my own personal experience of the here and now, which is why I fully acknowledge that, as much as I knew from my mom and my brother’s deaths, as intensely as those deaths touched my soul, they were nothing to what this has been, to what this is.
Grief now…I see it is layered. Layers and layers. The baseline is missing-ness and sorrow and pain that courses through my blood. Yes, there are moments when there is laughter, and there is so much love but that love comes from the same source as the grief so there is a mix present that wasn’t there previously. At any point during the day or night, a mere thought or passing picture can and does strip away all coping strategies and cause a surge of massive energy and the grief can become stronger than the love again. It is a constantly churning volcano and requires vigilance. It is never gone; it flows over and under and becomes more familiar and manageable until it isn’t.
This grief. Love. The two are so entwined as to be almost impossible to unravel. In some odd way that’s almost alright to me, in that it is familiar, even while it hurts. I know, now, whatever I didn’t know before and I know it to a depth that is the beat of my heart.
What I thought I knew then. What I know now, that is really, comfort in not knowing. Not having answers, not even really having questions.
And being okay with all of it.