Grief is a strange thing. It ebbs and flows as if it were the tide being pulled by a moon that seems to reflect only on the past. There is a constant struggle between a shore that wants to be wrapped in the water’s constant presence and the water that longs to be free to the horizon.
I found out about his death over Labor Day Weekend. In between Facebook updates about BBQ’s and yard work I saw one on my timeline that was a reminder to treasure friends because they won’t always be around. Soon after photographs were being posted and I recognized him, my dear friend from high school. His mischievous eyes and smile, the look that said he was probably mocking someone in his head and would tell me later. I scrolled through photograph after photograph, smiling with him and replayed old conversations in my mind, catching his voice in the dream catcher I keep in my heart so as to never lose it. He was gone. Only he isn’t.
Peculiarly enough, my 20th high school reunion will be held at the end of this month and I am not going. I haven’t attended any reunions and don’t plan on attending any of them. However, my friend’s death gave me pause. We are all almost 40 years old — an age we all thought, I am sure, was horrifically old on that day in June when we were given our fake diplomas. Nobody dies younger than 40. Only they do.
Most of us are familiar with the grief cycle, the five stages identified neat and tidy in textbooks and webpages for the grieving the check off once completed.
- Monday: Do the laundry, balance the checkbook and complete the denial stage.
- Tuesday: Clean the bathrooms, sew buttons, be angry.
- Wednesday: Grocery shop, post office, bargain.
- Thursday: Leave things unfinished, depressed.
- Friday: Get hair done, go to lunch with friends, acceptance.
It must be so gratifying to see everything checked off and be done. To no longer be sad or cry, to not feel confused or grief, or guilty because there is no time to even ugly mourn the way you want to because time won’t stop they way you think it should. Why does the sun insist on rising every damn day when you want to stay in bed and cry? Why do I have to continue cooking dinner, drive my kids where they need to go, be a mother, and brush my hair when all I want to do is shove ashes all over my face and rip my clothes, fall to my knees and weep?“I hear this guy tells the same inspirational get off your ass story at each assembly he does, and the people in the story never age…” Chris tells me. “Huh, really? Do you think that makes it less inspirational or more fake?” I ask. “Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s probably still inspirational if you’re into that shit. But I think he should at least make the people grow up to make it more authentic.” And we laughed and laughed as we walked into the gym.
I was crying in a parking lot when I remembered that conversation. We were sophomores and cynical but respectful during the assembly. It was corny and I remember there being some kind of song about rainbows and a kid being stuck in a tree. I laughed again as I thought about it and wondered if there were kids somewhere in America still listening to the same rainbow song and the same inspirational story with kids who never age.
I suppose this is what is the truth about grief. People grow up and that is what makes it more authentic. Grown ups don’t have the ability to fit authentic feelings in neat bulleted lists to check off when completed; grief is messy and time-consuming, it’s complicated and confusing. It’s unique to every day and to every person. I won’t be able to fit it in to a schedule between soccer games and tumbling classes.
It will ebb and it will flow, smothering the shore at times while flowing freely out to the horizon at others. Its tide will come with a moon that reflects on an ache inside me. An ache that remains but will always shine. The water there is endless, as it should be, in the silent distance.