Every year around this time, grief pays me a visit.
In the beginning, grief was my constant companion. It was there when I awoke and never left my side. While I dreaded its very existence, I also found a strange comfort in its presence. I felt validated by my grief while simultaneously resenting that it was always there. While I recognized grief’s grasp, I believed then that it was the only way to hold tight to the memory of my son. Grief frightened me, but also covered me like a warm blanket. This was my love/hate relationship with grief.
As the weeks and months went on, grief stuck around. It popped up at the most inopportune times, like while I was at the supermarket or playing at the park with my 3-year old son. I remember the conversations with my grief before I walked out the door, sternly warning it to let me get through my daily tasks. How silly of me to think I could bend grief to my will, as if it would silently comply. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, grief would show up unannounced. Grief would leave me feeling embarrassed. Ashamed. Exposed. Grief taunted me – it told me it was here to stay.
I decided I would ignore grief. But much like pain, grief demands attention. To ignore grief is to ignore life. With that realization, my relationship with grief began to change.
As I removed the mirror in front of my grief, it slowly turned outward and I found shared connection with those who walked with their own grief. The more I looked around, the more I noticed grief and became attuned to those whose grief followed them just like it did me. Grief became normal.
And then one day I woke up, and grief wasn’t there. Weeks went by with no word from my grief. I was relieved, but also felt guilty. If I didn’t have grief, what would happen to my son’s memory? And seemingly on cue, grief showed up to let me know that it was still around. It reminded me that it was still there, even if it didn’t come around as often. I chuckled to think of missing something that had previously haunted me.
As the years have passed, my relationship with grief has grown. While grief still makes a stop for anniversaries and holidays and the occasional surprise visit, its appearances have faded but are never completely gone. When grief arrives, I find that fear has been replaced with familiarity. And as I sit on the eve of the 12th anniversary of my son’s death, it is much the same. I almost look forward to its visit. Like an old friend, I invite grief in and reflect on how far we’ve come. I marvel at its soft edges and how much it is changed; how much I have changed. Now grief looks less like grief, and more like hope.