She looks at me and says, “It looks like you’ve bounced back. You look great.” Instinct nearly has me rolling my eyes, but both my heart and mind know she means well. Instead I smile and say, “I’m bouncing but I’m not sure I’m bouncing back. I’m constantly bouncing between hurting and healing, and grief and gratitude. It’s not a one-way bounce. It’s a constant back-and-forth, like a game of Monkey in the Middle.”
She smiles, though I can tell by her look I’ve said too much. I’ve revealed too much raw and honest heartbreak for her comfort level. This is nothing new, I’m used to tucking my grief away when it gets too heavy for others. What others don’t realize is that the weight of grief is carried in my life indefinitely, regardless of whether it’s comfortable or convenient. It stays always, even when it doesn’t show or get discussed.
In the early days of my grief I would have just smiled and said “Thank you.” Now, years into my grief journey, I’ve learned to be more confident in my approach and bolder in my authenticity. It does no one any good to pretend that grief and loss aren’t catastrophic life events. It does no one any good to pretend to hold strength and courage at an unattainable level or consistency. I’ve learned that sharing my heartbreak as much as my resiliency allows others to grasp the reality that when grief eventually enters their life, because it will, that they will be messy and complicated but they’ll also be ok.
No one let me in on the insider-experience of grief, which meant that I was unprepared and surprised by nearly everything that came with the death of someone I love. It turned out that the only aspects of grief I had learned were flipped and filtered in ways that made them inaccurate and convoluted. If others will learn about grief through the way I experience and express it, then I want that to reflect honesty and truth.
Grief is heavy, always. What changes is how we carry it. Some days we carry it with only our fingertips and others with both hands.
Grief never goes away. What changes is the lens in which we view it. Initially it is dark, foggy and unattractive. Eventually the lens is filled with color again and carefully crafted with loving reminiscence and gratitude.
Grief doesn’t heal completely. It isn’t like a simple injury. It’s more like a life-changing operation that leaves a scar that you can both see and feel, forever.
Grief is unique. It’s as unique as our fingerprints and our DNA. Each loss, each experience, and each relationship comes with it’s own map. A map that can only be written by the person walking it.
Grief changes you. Like an instant makeover that uses permanent paint instead of makeup. The kind of makeover that’s as drastic as shaving your head or covering your body in head-to-toe tattoos. At first it changes you in chiseled by loss and a forever absence, with time it shifts to a transformation carved by love.
As my friend and I sit down at our table and take sips of our coffee, I gently say, “I’m sorry if my comment was too much. It’s hard to live with a reality that sometimes others act afraid of, like my pain is contagious. It’s hard to hide my journey and the consequences of it. Grief is difficult and I’m trying intentionally not to pretend that it isn’t so that when it enters your life, you’ll know that while it’s catastrophic and relentless, it’s also survivable.”
She puts down her coffee and takes my hand, gently whispering, “I know.”
And with that, the hearts and souls of someone who has experienced significant loss and someone who has not are suddenly braided with grace, compassion and understanding.
One day in the future we’ll have a similar gettogether and I’ll find myself asking, not if she’s bouncing back, but which way she’s bouncing today, at that moment. Knowing that to truly help her on her grief journey, I need to acknowledge there is no getting back to life before loss, there is only moving forward to what lies ahead.
Keep bouncing, friends. Grief is chaotic and ever-changing, but it’s survivable.
A thirty-something wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.