I tried to write a Christmas letter. But Christmas letters are supposed to be happy, full of cheer and glowing reports of the year gone by.
What glowing thing can I say about the year in which my son died? That I’m still here? That I didn’t die with him? That there have been moments of happiness that almost, almost captivated me, before the swell of sorrow dragged me back down?
No, this isn’t the year for a Christmas letter, warm and cheerful. This is the year for hiding in my house, inhabiting my grief, stretching and limbering up the muscles of grief, because this isn’t a weight that I was ready to carry.
That’s the thing about grief in our society. We aren’t taught that it is love’s twin. We aren’t taught that they are two sides of the same coin – one impossibly bright and the other impossibly dark. We will all grieve. If we live, if we engage, if we love, then we will grieve. If you haven’t felt grief, real grief, that soul-etching, paralyzing, suffocating sorrow for the loss of someone you love, then hold tight, because you will. None of us are exempt.
Our society is so swept up in feeling good, in keeping busy, in going and doing, that we abhor grief. We actively shun it. And truthfully, who doesn’t? No one wants to feel like this, day after day, week after week, month after month. But just because we don’t want to feel that way doesn’t mean we can stop it when it happens. Grief must be inhabited. Grief must be seen, heard, felt. If it is not, then it festers inside of us. Society would have us “feel better” – take antidepressants, seek a way to “cure” our sadness. There is no cure for grief. Grief is as a part of our life as love is, should we let it in.
We must all learn to make room for it in our lives. And it’s work. It’s tremendous work to acknowledge those feelings and to bear them. It takes practice. Like anything, you aren’t born knowing how to deal with the complexities of grief. You must learn. You must train yourself. Society doesn’t teach us this. Society teaches us to run from our grief, hide from our grief, busy ourselves so that we are distracted. And it’s damaging.
I think I’ve been running from my grief, as of late. I’m trying to hide from the sorrow of our loss. I think I’ve been hiding from the pain of being a year away from the last time I held my sweet baby, alive in my arms. But in hiding, I only feel worse. The rage, the sadness, the sorrow, the loss – when they aren’t acknowledged, when I’m not with my grief, they come spilling out in other ways – ways that are not healthy.
For the past two days, I’ve been trying to be with my grief – by sitting, deliberately reading about the grieving process, and letting the sorrow flow over me. It’s scary. It’s painful. Who wants to succumb to the power of this kind of sadness? There have been times that I thought “if I let myself start crying, I will never stop.” It would seem irrational, but it’s a very real fear. Once the well of sorrow has been opened, sorrow flows over you like a river, and it often feels like drowning.
It takes great bravery to face your grief head-on, to fully inhabit that space, to allow it to drag you down. And every time that it has dragged me down, I have come up again, if even only for a little while.
I keep coming up. I keep breathing. I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Watching the world, guarding my heart, trying to extend compassion – to myself and to others. But I’m tired. I won’t lie. Grief is exhausting. It’s an almost physical weight that I bear every single day and will for the rest of my life. Sometimes, just the thought of all the days I have left to go overwhelms me, and I want to lie down and sleep forever. But I keep going. One foot. One foot. One foot.