You can drown in grief. Often enough when I feel that I’ve made my way to shore, I’m swept away yet again, lost in the midst of the pounding waves. Some hit me at such a force that I think I’m close to giving in, ready to succumb to it all. Other times the waves are lighter, as if pushing me once again to land.
I’ve been to four funerals within the last year, each representing a season that has passed. Three of the four were held during the pandemic, leaving those grieving socially distanced, remaining in isolation when what we really need is to be tucked in close to one another, our arms stretched out to catch those near the edge before being carried out to sea.
I can’t describe what it was like to not be able to attend my aunt’s funeral. This woman, a matriarch to our entire family, was limited to ten visitors. Ten. We all sat outside in the parking lot watching a live feed streaming from our cell phones, the connection to the internet mirroring those grieving as it continued to break. Hopeless and helpless, I had to sit on the sidelines for a woman I viewed as a mother. I watched my cousin, one of the closest things I had to a sister growing up, breaking down in front of me. And yet I stood there, forced to hide behind a mask. I left, saddened by the distance between those who loved her. I left, saddened by my world that was continuing to change.
In 2019, my dog died. Sure, some people think it’s just a dog, but I had Sam since I was 11. Her death, in fact, was on my hands as I had to make the tough call to euthanize her when her health suddenly declined overnight. That morning, it was snowing. I hugged her tight in the back of our SUV as we took our last drive together. I hugged her tight as I said my last few words to her. My cousin showed up, telling me to keep my hand over her chest and I hugged her tighter when I felt her last heartbeat.
Grief, you can drown in that. Sam had been with me through the biggest moments of my life. Now, she was gone. Following Sam, my brother’s own childhood dog passed away almost as if he knew Sam was gone; his own soul was ready to join her. After that, it was my grandmother.
I can remember getting the news of her passing and while we knew it was coming, there was no way to prepare. I fell to the ground wailing. I wailed for the grandmother that I would never touch again, hold again, hug again. I wailed for the grandmother who offered her entire life to her family, I wailed for the pain to stop. My grandmother had been combative the last months of her life, her dementia and stroke too much to handle. Yet, in a single fleeting moment, she nearly seemed lucid and looked up at me, patting me on the cheek with a smile. And then she was gone again, her mind escaping her. I wailed for the grandmother that loved me, that patted me on the cheek one last time.
The other funerals I attended reminded me of this pain, as if cutting open the same wound that was old and scarred over, a wound right above my heart. I saw people who loved the ones that had been lost as I loved my own. I cried for their pain, my mask drenched in tears.
Grief, the feeling of losing yourself in the depth of that pain, has no time limit. My grandpa died over a decade ago and while those waves have gotten smaller, I still experience the ones that come out of nowhere to remind me that he’s not here. Sitting alone by a creek after I graduated from college, I watched the birds and wildlife. The creek seemed to produce a large enough rush that swept me in, and I mourned again for him. I mourned for our talks, how we would always get online every night to instant message, how we would enjoy coffee together even though I didn’t drink it, and then I mourned for how he would never see my accomplishments or know me as an adult, a woman. I like to think that I would make him proud, that he’d love my newly found enthusiasm for caffeine and that he’d understand my quirks, my quiet side.
Maybe it’s easy to guess, but once I cry for one, I end up crying for all. All of the pain comes to the surface; the memories, the ones we’ve experienced and the ones we’ll never share. I think of the conversations with my grandpa, the love of my grandma, the comfort of my dog, and the giving spirit of my aunt. I think of them never knowing my children. And selfishly enough, I think of them not seeing the person that I’m growing into. Sometimes I welcome the pain, wanting to hold onto something tangible, something that shows that they’re not forgotten.
Grief, you can drown in it. But after I’ve been hit by a huge wave, I still swim to shore because I know there are others waiting there with me. We stand together, hand in hand, wanting to keep strong for each other. I swim back to shore to experience the new moments with those I will mourn for in the future and those who will mourn for me. We learn to live with the new weight on our shoulders as we move forward, not wanting to miss what is around us. The waves are heavy, but they bring the beauty of life.