DOES GRIEF HURT?
THAT AND OTHER ODD QUESTIONS
Does grief hurt? That’s an excellent question that those persons who have never experienced what I refer to as “crushing, gut-busting, overwhelming, debilitating grief,” might legitimately ask. Why not? It isn’t much different than asking if the impending needle that a nurse is about to poke in your arm is going to hurt. I think most people would like to anticipate future pain in any form. That way you can begin working on the remedies for the pain far ahead of the actual event. It makes sense to me-if I lived on an alien planet!
Of course grief hurts! It’s like the lyrics in the 1982 song “Bad to the Bone.”
I broke a thousand hearts
Before I met you
I'll break a thousand more, baby
Before I am through
I wanna be yours pretty baby
Yours and yours alone
I'm here to tell ya honey
That I'm bad to the bone
Bad to the bone
Grief is bad to the bone. My son Joshua died March 2nd, 2008 in a traffic accident, and if I could make sense out of his death then I wouldn’t be writing this. Why do I write? I write to heal. I write to remember. I write so I won’t fall into a deep slumber that I can’t recover from. I’ve learned that there are many faces and facets of grief. There is the face you wear-the griever. Then there is the face others wear who know you are grieving. In addition, there is the face that grievers wear when they know that others around them don’t know what face to wear when they are in your presence. That’s probably the most complicated face.
Grief hurts not only you but everyone who loves you and everyone who knows you-even strangers who you have just met. Grief has tentacles that are far-reaching and they stick to everything and everyone associated with the grief. Grief is sadness multiplied exponentially to the millionth degree. I don’t know exactly how large that is, I just know it is beyond my comprehension. Does grief hurt? Sometimes I guess it depends on who the griever is. Take for instance me. If you asked me the day Joshua died if grief hurts then, on an intellectual level, I would have said yes. On an emotional level, I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer because I couldn’t speak. But, if you asked another person then the answer might be completely different. The answer might be in their eyes. They might display that vacant stare that you see sometimes in meth addicts when the drug is caressing their brain. They are here but somewhere else at the same time.
Grief is incomprehensible to those of us who think, and realistically so, that we will not lose a child before we die. It can be just as incomprehensible to those who lose loved ones when they were convinced, and counted on the fact, they would die first and wouldn’t have to experience the pain they have blocked out of their consciousness because it is just too difficult to imagine. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a course such as Grief-101? In fact, it could be online and wouldn’t require a lot of energy on our part. The chapters might look something like this:
1. Death chapter
2. Initial Grief chapter
3. More Grief chapter
4. A lot more grief chapter
5. Too much grief chapter
I think you get the picture. Books, articles and poems all have their places in the grief journey but none of them are a panacea for your individual grief. I have read several books, many articles and a few poems and I have garnered something from each but my grief is still here. Does grief hurt? Yes, it does, but my pain has finally gone through several wash cycles and come out cleaner. I don’t have the same number of bricks weighing down my chest now. The tears come less often but not necessarily less intensely. I can walk through a day and not think once of Joshua. I haven’t forgotten him, but I have placed him in a secret place known only to me and when I want to talk to him, I just lift him out of that place. It is becoming easier to lift him out because he weighs less now.
Grief for me now is like an unfinished painting. There are brush strokes yet to be applied, and I don’t know what the finished painting will look like. It is a symphony in my head with a cacophony of notes and a confusing cadence. It is simple and complicated at the same time. It is inexplicable.
And let us not forget those persons who are in our lives still. They grieve for your loss and for you, but I think it is unrealistic to expect them to understand and comprehend your loss. Each person’s grief is unique and each person responds differently. If your friends, or even loved ones, seem at a loss for words it’s because they probably are. They are more than likely scared. Scared that what happened to you could happen to them. They might feel that you are contagious somehow and just being around you is bad karma. Give them a break-they are human. They don’t mean to hurt or seem uncaring. It comes with the knowledge that they are truly powerless to change anything about the situation. Powerlessness is scary! It took me several years to understand that dynamic.
Grief sends out flirtatious signals. It beckons others to come close so they can hurt, so they can feel uncomfortable and scared too. Sometimes it is hiding behind a door just waiting for you to walk by so it can jump out and scare the life out of you. As humans we don’t gravitate to pain and uncomfortableness. We generally retreat from those emotions. If I had any advice for a person who doesn’t know what to say to a grieving person, it would be this: Don’t try to fix them because grief isn’t fixable. It isn’t a problem, it is a way of life now for that person. It’s eternal. There isn’t a pill or potion that will make it better. Be patient, be kind and just be there-in the moment- with your heart ready to reach out if a grieving hand reaches out for you. There is no cure for grief so, despite how you might want desperately to heal the person who is grieving, realize that there is probably nothing you can say or do that will truly lessen the pain of the loss. Silence and a nod might be all that is required and, I can tell you from experience, those two actions can be powerful and cathartic. There were times that all I wanted was someone to listen to me spill my guts and not say anything to me-just be there.
If there is any grace in the pain of grief, then I believe it comes in the form of an awakening and cleansing of the spirit. A transformation of the soul and the knowledge that you are not alone and that you have something to give to others who are grieving.
That you have the strength to venture, unarmed, into the darkness that is part of grief - and listen. Listen with your heart and mind to the stories of others who are in pain. To take their pain and make a portion of their pain part of you.
The one truth that I now know, unequivocally, is that grief is painful and no one can take that journey and survive unchanged. Acknowledging that it is painful and will always hurt is the first step in healing and learning to live with the pain and the memories. I am still on that journey.