Grief is More Than Sadness

The world has changed dramatically, since I last dared put down words in this journal. It takes courage, this committment to stringing together coherent words in an unstable world. When I last wrote, the novel coronavirus or, COVID-19, had already made its jump to our species; most of us, however, remained blissfully ignorant of what was coming.

Change comes, individually and collectively. change Can ripple Gently across the surface of a life in progress. It can also come with tsunami-level force, rearranging everything.

Since I last wrote, my individual life has undergone adjustment. On December 27, 2019, my ex-husband and his wife were sitting at my dining room table, eating the meal my 27-year old daughter (home for the holidays) helped me prepare, because my right hand was still in a splint from a fall on the ice. My older son (who lives locally) and his girlfriend joined us for dinner. My husband camped out with our younger son in the basement because second son (half sibling of my older two kids) had a nasty cough.

I hadn’t yet chosen my 2020 word, heal. But, already, the kind of healing I didn’t know I needed was in motion.

The day before our scheduled dinner, I’d debated canceling the invite, because of my injury or because of my younger son’s contagion. But the same nudging that prompted the invitation back in mid-December wouldn’t let me cancel. This meal, I thought, would be the first of many; this meal, I hoped, would serve as the beginning of a broader reconciliation. Instead, the meal would be the last time I’d see my ex-husband.

The father of my older two children died unexpectedly on January 7, 2020.

In January, I held my older two children as they grieved their father; I extended my hand toward their stepmother as she mourned. Late at night, deep inside, I grieved too. I wasn’t grieving my first marriage, long since spent. I wasn’t grieving the man I’d rarely spoken to in recent years, our days of active co-parenting having gradually faded as our children grew into capable adults. Although I was tremendously pained that my children had lost their father so young, I wasn’t sad, per se.

But, I am learning, grief is so much more than sadness.

Grief is raw, unbridled anger. Grief is claustrophobic fear. Grief is waking up at two in the morning with your heart on fire. Grief is feeling like someone shredded your epidermal layer with a cheese grater. Grief is losing your voice and not knowing if it will ever return. Grief is confronting, head on, one’s powerlessness over the uncontrollable. Grief is hammering against the well-meaning people trying to cheer you up or talk you out of your emotions. Grief is carrying a bucket of ice in your gut that can extinguish moments of hope. Grief is the mandatory path one must walk to reach the new version of your life, the one so different than the one you wanted. But grief is also your connection to the life you’ve lost.

Grief belongs to you; it is your right.

More change and grief work came for me in February, after my father was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive prostate cancer. I was still reeling from the news when I began obsessively reading reports of COVID-19, the virus making it unlikely I’ll be seeing my immune-compromised father anytime soon, the same virus now changing your world and mine.

As our shared losses mount daily, know that Our collective grief is real. I claim my word of the year for you, for me, for the world: Heal.

The Heart of Grace

For Renée

Tall pines fill the frame of my kitchen window.

These dense layers of green seem to infinitely

recede across my back neighbor’s property.

 

Should I ever hear a chainsaw’s caterwaul,

my only standing will be that of witness.

Straight-line winds uprooted the red pines

 

surrounding my brother’s Northern Minnesota

lake home. He was heading west

to visit friends when his cell phone rang. He

returned to downed trees and open sky.

 

Trees quietly sift at the heart of grace.

 

My life formed on the windy plains of North

Dakota—a place of vast horizons—and still

I’ve found the steady companionship of trees

 

more dependable than shifting colors of sky.

My brothers and I left North Dakota, as did

so many others of our generation. An oil boom

 

brought new folks to mine what lies beneath

grasses that once fed bison. I am an outsider

to the economic needs of North Dakotans.

 

I condemn the fracking frackers,

their inevitable “fraccidents.” And yet,

 

as I stand at my kitchen sink, one fragile end post

to one tunnel of green, hot water runs

across my hands and across morning dishes.

 

I am not without need and the weight

of my body bends towards mercy.

bright countryside dawn daylight
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