Grief is so different from what I thought it would be. So much deeper, so profoundly sad, and surprisingly serendipitous in its ways of overwhelming a moment, a day, a week, a whole person. I don’t know where it goes when it leaves me. And I don’t know what brings it back, suddenly, or why, sometimes, it feels like I have been crying for hours when I haven’t, but once I feel that I have been, I begin to, not wailing like a child, but weeping in silence until my eye sockets are withered like fingers left soaking in bath water too long.
I miss my friend Jan. I knew I would. We both knew our friendship would outlive her, and while she invited me, during her very last day on this earth to go with her on the next leg of her necessarily non-earthbound journey, we both knew I would be left behind, at least for the time being. She had cared for me in so many ways as her disease progressed, sometimes sparing me the ugly details, the ripping away of hope that a new blockage or infection represented and sometimes introducing me to other friends who loved her, too, and from whose concern for her I could gather the strength I needed to minister to her while she lived and to minister to myself when she died. She knew what she was doing, but she knew, too, there were some things she couldn’t control, try though she did, for example, to stave off death until her Christmas To-Do list was completed.
She modeled strength and courage and hope and extraordinary grace. But there was no role model for grief. Or was there? I check my memories for clues as much as for comfort these days. I know she would forgive me the occasional meltdown; being real counted in her book. And from me, of all her friends, she would not expect conformity – none of the rules, or *shoulds* or *ought-tos* that might have governed our mothers. She wouldn’t be looking for regrets – for things we didn’t say or do because, once she was diagnosed, we pretty much lived flat-out and said what needed to be said, which was mostly “I love you” and “Thank you,” and occasionally, “Have you gotten a second opinion?” and, of course, a good friend’s, “Wow! You look great!” I don’t think, though, that she would fancy my mornings cocooned in bed, failing to rise to greet the day. Nor would she fully understand how oppressive depression can be, how my feet feel stuck in wet cement some days; I’m moving, and even moving forward, but my legs are heavy and every step is a huge effort that leaves me exhausted and wanting, again, to get back under those covers. Still, she would know, because she was a wise and caring person, that there is no one right way to “do” grief, and that I must simply make my own way into Life as she made hers through her illness.
On good days, which are easier days, I know that is my job – to make my way back into Life and to live it as fully as possible, albeit in a state of heightened awareness that time is short and losing a friend hurts a whole lot. But what does that mean exactly? And how do I live out of Peace and Joy rather than Grief? I don’t want to be the little black cloud known as “Jan’s friend.” I don’t want certain hymns to shout “funeral” instead of “church” or “choir.” I don’t like the anger I feel in my gut when I read unrealistically optimistic news reports of new treatments for ovarian cancer when I know – *Look at Jan!* – that statistically, nothing has changed. I’d like my creativity back and my ability to care deeply about things that aren’t necessarily life-and-death matters. I want to laugh more easily. I want to feel good again. I’d like to start thinking more about what I gained and learned from Jan’s friendship than what I lost with her death. I don’t want to think about what I’ll have in my obit (compared to what she had in hers) for years. I’d like to feel a whole lot less guilty about how much life I have left to live and more expectant about the adventures ahead. I want to use my pictures and memories of good times as healing salves instead of sensing them picking at scabs and reopening wounds. I want to take a vacation – just because – and not to get away from anything. I want to love much, much more.
Grief is a painful void. I want to be whole again.
*Please share your experiences with, your definitions of, and your healing from Grief, below.*
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