Grief is amazing. It is the most universal feeling in the human experience, more than love even. There are plenty of people out there who never experience love. But grief touches us all.
It doesn’t have to involve death, either. We grieve over lost friendships and missing rings, over closed restaurants and totaled cars. My kid grieves every time I leave him with the sitter, though he gets over it pretty quickly.
Sometimes it is acute. Sometimes it is all encompassing. Sometimes it is just a weight sitting in your chest like a poisonous thorn in your heart. It makes your breaths shallow, your smiles falter, your mind slip. It makes laughter brittle. Grief is a frenetic energy that tingles in your fingers because you need to do something, keep moving, keep distracted or else be sucked down into malaise and swirling, deepening sadness.
It can make us selfish, callous, angry, spiteful, and jealous. It can make us uncomfortable, glib, and shallow. It makes us change the subject, avoid eye contact, struggle for the words that don’t sound trite and meaningless. My grief is genuine. Their grief is inconvenient.
And yet, with grief can also come empathy, deep and fulsome and painful. It is cathartic and destructive. Sweet and bitter.
It hits everyone differently. There is no comparing one grief to another because it will never strike the same way twice.
I don’t remember when my Mom’s mom died because I was very young. I remember seeing Mom crying and someone said it was because she missed her Mom. I didn’t cry, though.
The next grandparent we lost was my Dad’s dad, who was sick in the summer and gone by Halloween when I was 19. That was rough. He was much loved. When Grandma died right before Christmas, I was angry at her because she hadn’t given us time to heal.
Mom’s Dad died in 2008, and thanks to dementia it was a relief. I hate writing that down, but it’s true. He wasn’t Grandpa at that point. His memorial was a while later and I said I couldn’t go because I couldn’t get leave when actually I couldn’t face Mom’s grief, so I didn’t even try. I’m sorry about that every day. I was a coward.
I have mourned for cats, like when Lucky was put down because he had feline leukemia and when Buddy found Mahler just dead, dead, dead for no reason at only 5 years old.
I mourned Carrie Fischer, crying effusively when her CGI face surprised me at the end of Rogue One. Isn’t it amazing that we can feel loss for someone we have never met? That whole year we lost cultural icons, one after another, each another blow to our hearts. We came together to share how those complete strangers had influenced our lives, how their arts had saved us or inspired us. And of course others derided our grief as stupid because actors and musicians and artists aren’t heroes. We didn’t know them. They didn’t do anything special. I bet this police officer/soldier/fire fighter won’t get as many shares as some meaningless celebrity. But that isn’t how grief works. There isn’t a hierarchy to how loss effects you, a chart that dictates how much you suffer based on importance. I’ve wept for slaughtered school children and club goers and church members, for the miscarriages of my friends, and secondary mothers of my childhood. I’ve wept for fictional people just as much as for real loss, sometimes because of real loss. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince destroyed me because the loss of my grandparents was still very new. Granny Weatherwax just amplified my feeling of loss for Terry Pratchett, her creator. You cannot argue people out of grief and you can’t compare losses like comparing prices at the grocery store. So. Don’t. Do. It.
Mom’s brother died in 2016, the first of 3 uncles we lost in a matter of weeks (hubby lost one of his uncles and a great uncle). It was only 5 weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer of the everything. So we were prepared, but only just. And when I told people they’d get all concerned or horrified. And I’d help them feel more comfortable. We weren’t very close. I’m fine. It’s really Mom who needs your concern. This was nominally true. I was fairly gutted, but more so when I thought of what she was going through. How would it feel to lose a brother? And then all my past griefs would slide in and knock around as they do. Grief is accumulative like that. It never goes away, just waits until you need it again.
I don’t know if I was grieving my uncle or the loss of a relationship we never got to have. We were so estranged from that branch of the family (not for any reason, just no real interest in keeping up relations) that we found out about his actual death from the announcement posted on the website of the college he worked for. It was just heartbreaking. And when his wife died about a year later, we weren’t invited to the memorial. Which didn’t seem strange to me at all. Just, sad.
A little while after his death I was having lunch with a friend and she told me, fighting back tears, about the loss of her dog, who had been old and sick and beloved. And when she finished she remembered that I’d just lost a human being. But it’s ok. I’m fine. We weren’t that close. And I know the pain of losing a pet. Grief isn’t a competition. The pain of someone else doesn’t diminish your own by comparison. Just the opposite sometimes.
It is fascinating how selfish I can be when I am in pain. I want everyone else to suffer with us. I want everyone to know and commiserate and to understand that I have it the worst and can’t they understand how much pain I’m in?!? But when people do show sympathy, commiserate, understand, love and hug and pray for/with us, I want them to stop. It makes me feel it more acutely because I can see in their faces the grief that they live with every day. I want everyone to know without telling them. I want to be treated gently and I was to be treated normally. I want attention and I want to be ignored. I want to be alone and I hate to be alone. I want to be held but I’m afraid of what will happen when it happens. What if I lose control? What if I never get it back?
January this year we lost Buddy’s Uncle Mike, who had been in decline for a while. I didn’t know him very well, but they were only up in Baltimore so we drove up for the memorial. Buddy Boy took some of his first steps that weekend and he got to meet a lot of his family for the first time. I missed most of his memorial service because I was in the basement of the church watching Buddy Boy zoom around in his dress suit. I’m glad. It was hard seeing the naked grief of his daughters.
And yesterday we lost Dad’s big brother, Uncle Dave. He’d been fighting leukemia for the last year or so and had a bad reaction to one of his treatments. He went into the hospital Wednesday and then he died. His daughter posted on Facebook all about it and asked for people to share their memories. I can’t think of any. I know I liked Dave. I always think of him as a warm, funny guy, kind of like a walking hug. He wasn’t one of the intimidating adults at the family reunions. He was the only person in my immediate family who served in the military, though he was in the Air Force and Navy while I (and my youngest brother) joined the Army. He wasn’t really active on social media, which is how I keep up with the family I have scattered around the country. A few comments on posts I made about Buddy Boy, a political meme here and there. It was his wife who called me while Buddy was in SKorea and who did most of the communications. And still, I’ve spent the day frantically trying to keep my hands busy so I don’t start crying. I almost lost it while driving because I realized he never met my son. I know he’d seen him on Facebook and can now look down on him from Heaven. But I don’t get to see his face when he meets my boy. And a million other things keep churning around, drawing up the pain just when I think I’ve settled it. Is Dad okay? How are my cousins and his widow? His grandkids? He only outlived his own father by 15 years. He was only in his 70s. I know he lived a full, rich, blessed life (especially if the yearly Christmas letters are to be believed). But my loss has piled on with the rest, reminding me of grandparents and uncles and heroes and strangers and my fur babies.
And that is just grief.
Please send positive thoughts and prayers to Dave’s family. He is greatly missed.