Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A few words about grief

I am in the thick of it.

I feel like the wind’s been knocked out of me. I can’t concentrate at work. I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer to thaw for dinner tonight.

When I zoom in on my Grandpa’s face in my mind’s eye, he’s always got his eyes squinched tight because this is what he did when he laughed hard, and I’ll always remember him laughing. When the picture is really clear, that’s when I cry. When I remember that that picture will only ever be in my head, that there isn’t the possibility of another visit with him on this side of eternity, well, my heart breaks some more.

I’m preoccupied and a little snippy. My daughter has noticed and commented. “What’s wrong, Mom? You seem like you’re hiding something.”

I tell her I’m tired. But she’s no fool. I am hiding. I’m hiding the fact that all I want to do is crawl in bed and catch my breath. For a few weeks, maybe a month.

I know I’m okay. I know I’m not depressed. I know that allowing myself all of this annoying stuff is part of the process, but it’s exhausting.

I am aware of how poorly we westerners do this death and mourning thing. Because he was my grandfather, I was granted one day of leave for the funeral. I am grateful for the day I received, but this was not nearly enough. Nor would the three days have been had the loss been my child, parent, or sibling.

If I’m honest, I’m put off by the idea that this man, as my grandfather, doesn’t rank high enough for more than a cursory nod of acknowledgment. A friend called him my “shelter” in a note of condolence, and my, did she get that right.

I’ve thought of the beauty of the Jewish practice of Sitting Shiva, the seven-day mourning period for first-degree relatives. The bereaved are fed by friends and neighbors, visited, and sat with. The visitors, according to my Wikipedia search, do not initiate conversation, but simply be with the bereaved in their grief. In my faith tradition, we call this “ministry of presence.”

I have been the recipient of many kindnesses in the past three weeks. I have had long-distance friends text and send messages to check in on me. One friend told me to text her a heart when I needed an extra dose of prayer and support. I appreciated the wordless way to express a need to her. It’s a strategy I will offer friends in similar difficult circumstances in the future.

I’ve also received a dozen or more cards in the mail. Each one of these has meant so much and has been such a comfort.

While I am sad and tired, I don’t want to rush past this time. I want to honor it and the person I am grieving. I know that unprocessed grief can be harmful and I don’t want any of that.

My self-care practices also are helping. I started a new show on Netflix and have been surprised by its poignancy, humor, and comfort. I am reading a lot and writing a little. I’ve gotten a bit off track with doing well at feeding myself, but I am paying attention to how many evenings I eat cereal and work to eat better options at the next meal.

Since this is really a chronicle for me to look back on later when my heart doesn’t feel so tender, I don’t have a great conclusion to these rambles. I’ll end with a beautiful moment from the funeral home.

I greeted a man in cowboy boots, a buff-colored suede jacket, and a cowboy hat. I introduced myself as Melvin’s oldest granddaughter. I thanked him for coming and asked him how he’d known my grandfather. We talked for a few minutes. He told me what he thought of my grandfather, how he loved and admired him. Then he cocked his head to the side and said, “I see Melvin in you.” He smiled.

I smiled back and said, “You do?” This was the first time I’d ever heard this.

“Oh yes, I see him in your smile.” I couldn’t think of a lovelier thing to hear. I haven’t forgotten it either.



  1. This is a beautifully-put outpouring of emotion and one I have identified with at the passing of my father. When I lost Daddy, I felt sorry for all the people who never got to know him. I grieved the loss of the library full of books that his life represented. The loss of such a rich, full and important life galvanized me into action, preserving as many memories as I could, before the special moments might fade from my memory.

    There was an old tradition in Greenville, SC (and I believe other southern cities): when a funeral procession of cars were observed on their way to the cemetery, other cars pulled off to the side of the road, coming to a full stop to show their respect.

    When a grief this strong is this fresh, you wish the whole world would stop and respect the passing of a great human being.

    Thank you for sharing your heart, Julie. You are not alone.

    With love,

  2. Julie, I am here to tell you that YOU ARE NORMAL. You are behaving normally for a person who just lost one of the loves of their life. And most of us understand. Sitting Shiva - I love the practice. In spirit I am sitting with you my friend. xo

  3. Oh Julie... this is so powerful and true. (Sadly.) I love the tradition of the Jewish culture... and I love the idea of texting a heart when you need prayer... I will be using that, too! We had a summer of grief last year and it seemed as if we were grieving and laying things down left and right. Some of it included death and some included other kinds of loss and mourning.

    Take your time. Honor the process. I'm so happy to hear that you are giving that gift to yourself --even on the days that it most definitely does not feel like a gift! Good for you for paying attention and practicing self care.

    Just breathe... and know that I am praying for you!

  4. So beautiful Julie! It is hard to keep peace after the loss of a loved one when there is no promise of a Heavenly Reunion. Praying God comfort your heart, still your mind, and give you plenty of opportunities to share your grandpa's smile!

  5. Julie, this is beautiful. Its so sad that one is not granted more time to grieve after losing a loved one, and yet as time continues on, we still grieve. Praying for you today!