Monday, February 21, 2011

My Friend Grief

I wrote this post last year, after four years of walking side by side with grief. Searching through old posts last week, I found this one again and read it with tears in my eyes. Grief really has taught me how to take a punch. A lesson I could have lived without perhaps, but one that will continue to serve me well.

Over the past four years grief and I have reluctantly become friends. Grief is not the kind of friend I can call in the middle of the night when I am sad, but rather the kind of friend who sits quietly at the end of my bed while I cry myself to sleep. Grief may be away for weeks or even months at a time, but the knock of this friend is now as familiar to me as my own voice. There is no need to explain my sorrow to grief; she understands my process better than I do. Grief knows I will get up again no matter how hard I have been hit by her power, and patiently stands as a witness to my ability to regain my balance time and time again. When grief calls, I stop what I am doing because I have learned that she must be answered. When I quit trying to escape her, I found an unexpected comfort by her side. She calls me and repels me; guides me and confuses me; moves me forward and throws me back.

Some days I hate grief, and other days I miss her. I have discovered a safe place in her arms, though her twisting, turning path won't allow me to be still for long. Her presence has added a soft cadence to my day-to-day life that I have come to rely on as confirmation that I am, indeed, alive. The irony of this does not escape me. I have realized that in my mind grief has replaced Phil, and that my fear of letting him go has created a relationship with grief I could never have anticipated.

I am beginning to believe that this is why grief comes in waves. If grief was linear and we could walk from one stage into the next, there would likely be large numbers of grieving people with severe stage fright. I would be terrified if someone were able to provide me with a grief graduation date. Instead, grief throws us from one phase to the next, with no predictable pattern or discernible course. Like a boxer who learns to fight on their feet, our tortured, grieving selves wheel from one moment to the next watching for the inevitable gut punch. And slowly, painfully we become stronger, faster, and more confident each time we are forced into the ring. That doesn't mean we won't hit the matt, or that we won't be tempted to stay down for the count...but somehow our spirits find the will to fight one more time.

Grief holds the towel as we come out of the ring. Grief bandages our wounds and then sends us to face the opponent called death, again and again. Grief stands behind the stool in our corner and insists we go another round. There is a saying that speaks to the concept that some friends come into our lives for a purpose, but do not stay long. I am beginning to think of grief as a friend who will come and go from my life. She will show me how to survive in the ring of sorrow, and then leave me with these hard earned knocks hoping they teach me something about living courageously. Grief will also point out that she is not Phil and that he is not her. He exists in a separate, and timeless, place that she does not inhabit. Grief is wise. And eventually I must let her go, knowing that when she resurfaces, sometime down the road, I will greet her as a friend.


  1. So well articulated. Thank you for sharing this again. I related so well to the idea of grief knowing that no matter how hard she hits I will get up again.Yes, we live courageously without our loved one. I never wanted to be so strong. His memory keeps me strong. It is such a confusing emotion.I am sure that I will read this many times again.

  2. Thank you for expressing this Michele... being newly widowed.. Grief has become me. It has consumed me.. it has possessed me.. so it is refreshing to read that this relationship is something that will not be wholly me.. but one that I will. over time. have an acquantice with and not define me.

  3. Grief has visited me last night again...she comes without invitation...she reminds me that the tears in my soul must be released...thank you for writing such an awesome blog...may we be strong and show courage to keep getting up...for staying down sure is not an answer...myhand in friendship...

  4. You amaze me with your writing, Michele. Today's post hit home, harder than expected.

  5. Grief is not my friend ..grief makes me sad and cry... grief is the greatest pain of my lifetime.. grief sits on my shoulder as a huge weight and makes me tired... grief does come without invitation... she makes me weak when i am strong... she turns my days from good to sad... there are no bandages for grief it is raw and pain filled... I rejoice for the days I am not reminded of solice.. only pain... who ever wrote this article must not have gone through grief... because grief is my enemy grief is not my friend...

  6. jpeals grief is all the things you list here, and so much more as well. The person who wrote this has lived thourgh a loss she thought would kill her, has felt exactly the way you do about grief right now, and has spent countless hours wondering why grief had to come into her life at all. The miracle is that I have also come to a place where I could not only write this, but believe it. Getting here has been the most painful journey of my life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  7. It also helps when you are young, attractive and in another marriage. I am not saying you never went through it, but it is easier to write these things when you are not actually going through it alone.

  8. This is a phenomenal piece of writing, great metaphors. I understand what you are saying. It has taken me awhile, but I've come to accept that each individual who is born is walking their own individual journey, and some of us have had the honor to walk with them and stand by them through their illness and death. I thank God every morning in my prayers for the twenty eight years of marraige and heart bursting love I was able to give and receive. Some people never get that opportunity. I have to be grateful that my beloved husband is out of pain and in a state of peace. During a long illness I always said I wanted what was best for him, and as hard as it has been to admit to myself, his passing was merciful, as he was suffering and would never get better. I am also going it alone and not in another marriage, but I suspect that getting into a new relationship and marriage brings bittersweet confusion and even more memories. God bless and grace all of us and our beautiful loved ones who have gone on. Michele, God bless you many times over for your work and reaching out to others who are struggling.

  9. "I have realized that in my mind grief has replaced Phil".
    I never thought of it that way, but I have to agree. At 8 months in, this aptly describes what I'm going through. I don't have Dave anymore - I have grief.

    "When grief calls, I stop what I am doing because I have learned that she must be answered. When I quit trying to escape her, I found an unexpected comfort by her side."
    Maybe this is what I'm doing wrong. I think I've been trying to keep too busy - to outrun grief but she apparently won't be outsmarted. (I can sense that she's done this before.) Lately I've been feeling like my grief has tackled me, taking me down like a 350lb linebacker. No matter where or how fast I run, she refuses to be ignored.

    I just started a Mindfulness Meditation Class specifically for the bereaved. Last week he handed out a pamphlet entitled 'Love Your Grief'. I'm not at that point yet, but I'm starting to recognize what's happening. As the numbness starts to periodically thaw, grief sees that I'm ready to deal with her again, sometimes subtly, sometimes I'm blindsided. That's her way.

    (By the way, Dave would appreciate my football analogies.)

    Thanks Michele!
    Very insightful post.

  10. Yes, we all come away from the greatest wreckage in our lives our own ways.
    Life and Grief always has lessons to teach, but whether you walk away learned or bearing the gifts of the vortex - now that, that is a choice one makes. Opportunity is always granted to all, some grasp and others choose not too.

  11. Thank you for posting your writing. Was widowed 3 & years ago and have gone in so many directions in effort to avoid your friend, "Grief". Am currently in the process of acknowledging the truth of this and am ready to embrace it/her/him.. Finding that there is an unanticipated solace here and hoping to move forward with resolve.