My family and I are walking through the long night of grief. I am writing this because I know there are so many walking this long night with us. You are grieving too.
I know. I'm holding a quiet space of love for you. I'm praying Psalm 61 for us.
"Hear my cry, O God;
Listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call out to you,
I call as my heart grows faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
A strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever,
and I long to take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows,
You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
Appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.
Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day."
The doctor visited us in our home one night last week and he talked to my dad about the Stages of Grief: denial, bargaining, anger, and acceptance. He made it sound like once you made it past one stage, you'd be onto the next, until finally arrive at consuming, peaceful, wholehearted, acceptance.
I think it would be more appropriate to call these feelings: The Creatures You Will Find Along the Coastline of Grief. I feel as if I am floating with my face below the ocean surface and with every new sign in anticipation of the last breath - heavy sedation, Hospice asking if we would like a hospital bed, reviewing the important papers that I've never wanted to look at before - I am carried to a new place of awareness and knowing that the last breath is closer. A new spot along the coastline that I haven't been to before. And at each new spot, The Creatures You Will Find Along The Coastline of Grief are there, and I experience each creature - denial, bargaining, anger - until finally I say, "Yes, the medicine is good. Yes, a hospital bed would be helpful. Yes, I need to read the papers."
A few mornings ago, while sitting at the tiny kitchen table that my Grandpa T had made, I asked my mom if she chose a word for the year. She had. She shared her 2018 guide words and asked me about mine.
"Feel", I said.
I realized a few months ago that I've become a master at numbing. Whenever I am faced with fear and pain I take a sharp inhale, hold my breath, retreat deep into myself, and become numb.
"The problem with numbing", I told my mom, "is that I end up being numb to everything. I can't choose what I am numb to. Once I am numb, I am numb to everything. Everything in life starts to pass by, and I miss out on so much."
And so now, with grief, as its waves wash over, I tell myself it's a lot like the pain of labor which also comes in waves. I focus on my mom's voice that coached me through every birth - "Breathe. Relax your body. Let the pain do what it needs to do."
The grief, like labor, rises, peaks, and passes, and as it comes and until it passes, I say to myself over and over, "Don't be afraid, this is what love feels like."
"Hi. How are you? I mean, that's not what I mean. I want to tell you something. Do you feel up to talking right now?"
She sighs. "I was just sitting here thinking about that question. How am I? I got a text message asking me how am I. I don't know how to respond."
"Well, you can always say how the fuck do you think I am? Or you can say, these are the worst days of my life and I wish I were back in Africa."
"Yes", she says, "But that could be awkward when I see them later in church."
How Are You and What Can I Do To Help - those are the hardest questions these days.
How are you? - Shitty.
What can I do to help? - Cure Cancer.
It takes a lot of energy and thought to come up with answers to both of those questions that aren't total conversation killers.
For those who are curious and genuinely want to know - I think it's safe to assume that the long journey of grief is really, really painful. Can you imagine the looks you would get if you walked into a room where a woman was in the middle of hard, active labor - and you asked, even with your most genuine and caring intention, "How are you?".
You don't need to start a conversation with that question. It's really fine to just say what you want to say.
"I love you."
"I'm gonna miss him too."
"This sucks so bad. Maybe we should all take a hit of the morphine and watch Netflix together."
And what can you do to help?
I think, if you can't cure cancer. The next most helpful thing is to show up. And by showing up you say, I'm not afraid of your grief. And I'm not afraid of your ugly cry. And I'm not afraid to witness you being broken.
Or - Maybe your truth is you are, and you say, "I am." I AM. I totally am afraid of all that - yes, and I will still show up because I love you. Even when you are sad and ugly and broken I still love you. And I'm here.