grief

Grief and Story

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I want to talk for a moment about something not writing related. Or maybe it’s tangentially related. I want to talk about grief.

One of my friends lost her brother-in-law (BIL) last week. She and her husband rushed to be by her sister-in-law’s (SIL), to help with the details while her SIL could just exist. And that’s all she was able to do in those moments. Exist. Now my friend is home and she’s experiencing the grief she held at bay last week while she was doing for her SIL.

Death is a bastard who steals from us. Rips apart pieces of our soul that it will never give back. Death’s sister, Loss, is a right bitch who mocks the pain of damaged expectations, hopes, and dreams. Together, Death and Loss try strip us of our dignity and send us into a dispair so deep we may never climb out. Death and Loss taunt us and tell us nothing will ever make us feel whole or hope again. Nothing will ease the pain of grief.

And yet grief is not our enemy.¬† Grief is a necessary process when we face Death and Loss. It is the probably the only thing that preserves our dignity and keeps us from languishing in that deep pit. Death and Loss aren’t lying, not completely. Our lives will never be the same when we experience death and loss, be it the loss of a person or a dream or anything in between. The trajectory of our lives change with each and every loss, and nothing will make our lives the same.

But grief does something that helps us move through these changes. It allows us to process the pain loss brings. It helps us to eventually make if not peace, an uneasy alliance with the absence death has created in our lives. It gives us purpose. It helps us walk forward step by shaky step.

We don’t talk a lot about grief in our very white and very western society. We don’t discuss the loss of dreams or the pain of lost opportunities. We barely talk about losing family and friends and what that pain does to us, how it rips out pieces of our souls that we can never get back. As a culture, we don’t like talking much about existential pain at all. And yet we all experience it. And sometimes we live inside that pain for the rest of our lives.

My friend may experience grief for years. Her BIL’s death was sudden and unexpected. There was no time to psychically or spiritually prepare. Her grief is a profound thing that needs to follow it’s own path. And we need to let it. Forcing her to follow Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief¬†would be a disservice to her process. Telling her that time will heal what is broken inside her would be a potential lie meant to make us feel better, not her.

Here is where I circle back to writing. Where there is Death and Loss, there is also Story. Story is how we process grief. Story is how we keep our loved ones alive. Story is how we work our way through those lost dreams and dead opportunities. Story can be private, something we share only with our journal as we scribble longhand with pen and paper, or something we share with the world in the form of blogs, novels, poetry. Story is what we share with our therapists, or what we discuss with our friends over coffee.

Story is the universal language of grief, and when we pick up a novel or a biography where a character experiences the same loss we have, suddenly we are not alone with our grief. The world has become smaller and our experiences no longer take place in a vacuum. We need these stories, not because they are heavy and laden with dispair, but because they are heavy, laden with dispair, and open a doorway to hope, because they hold a shared experience. And it’s that hope that helps us move forward.