There’s something about grief

Over the last 18 months or so, we have lived under what seems to be a collective blanket of grief. At minimum, we may grieve for the ability to move about the world freely as our pre-pandemic selves once did. For most of us, we grieve so much more: the loss of loved ones, of financial stability, of a sense of certainty and safety, of time. Thankfully, my family and I have remained safe from COVID but we have experienced our share of grief.

My father died on August 14th.

Writing that feels so blunt and so final. But that’s what happened. It was sudden. In one moment, I had two parents and, in the next moment, I had one.

My parents and me at my Ph.D. hooding, May 2013

I don’t really know what to do with this new reality. I remember thinking a few moments after my mother called to let me know of his passing that, for the first time in 42 years, I lived on the planet without my father. It was such a strange feeling that I haven’t yet learned how to articulate. There are moment when I rehearse memories of him, moments when I throw myself into other things to avoid this unidentifiable feeling in the pit of my stomach, and moments when I just go numb (those moments happen the most).

Many of you have had this experience. It is one that I knew was inevitable but wanted to avoid for as long as possible. I’m part of a club of people who feel emotionally lopsided–like that table with the shorter leg that just will not balance. Sometimes everything feels fine and then the slightest move reveals how instability is now a part of you. You can manage it and learn to live with it, but the balance can’t be restored because something is now missing.

But what am I learning?

One of the ways that I process things is to look at what I can learn from a situation. I’m not sure how healthy this is (admittedly, I often want to get to the moral of the story without sitting through the plot), but this is one of the things I do. This is the third major loss I have experienced and each has taught me things that I probably could not have learned apart from the grief that spurned those lessons.

There’s something about grief.

Grief has been the consummate teacher for me. It has stretched me and forced me to take a hard look at who I am, where I come from, and where I am going in ways that I never would have otherwise. It has been in the deepest moments of grief where I have found purpose and legacy. While I would give anything to have my loved ones here with me, I am grateful for their lives and for what grieving them has birthed in me.

It has only been a few weeks, but my father’s death is teaching me. Here are a few things I’d like to share:

  • Sometimes the loss of one person leads to losing others. Our lives are made up of webs of relationships. Sometimes the loss of one node in that web threatens the connection to other nodes. This means that grief is multi-dimensional and a hard thing can be harder than you expect.
  • Family is such a big idea. There comes a point in life where you stand in one place–a place of grief, in my case–and look around you to see the family that you have built. Some of them are relatives but so many more are people you have come to cherish over time and through circumstance. I learned early on that family is a choice. Take the time to honor those who choose to love you.
  • Prayer is power. I knew this before but this time has been a strong reminder of the power in prayer. I would not be standing in all that is going on around me if it were not for the prayers of those who care for me. Last week, I experienced prayer actually holding me up. I could feel it.

To those who are also grieving, my heart and my prayers are with you.