As you might imagine, my 90 year old aunt has lost a lot of loved ones. A whole lot. Occasionally she calls me to talk about her sister (my mom), to let me know that she loves me and to make sure I don’t feel motherless. Recently, during one of our phone talks, she said “grief is like being pregnant.” I said “yes it is Auntie,” then hung up realizing I didn’t get the metaphor.
What in the world do grief and pregnancy have in common? I’ve been pregnant many times and I still can’t connect my auntie’s dots. Did she mean grief hurts? Grief makes you nauseous? Grief makes you feel permanently fat? Grief makes your hair grow? Grief makes you really hungry? Grief lasts nine months then you feel better? Grief makes your pants tight? Makes you bleed?
I ran across some notes I’d taken after the talk. What she meant is this: grief is a condition you can’t force away. It has to run its course and there’s nothing you can do to shorten its duration.
What’s grief like for you? Is it like walking through a tunnel with an entrance but no exit? Like your head bursting into eight thousand pieces of glass while your hair catches fire? Would you say it’s like sleeping soundly then suddenly being awakened by a neighbor with a knife? Or is it akin to crying into rain or screaming in the wind?
It’s probably nothing like any of those for you and that’s my point. Grief is as individual as labor. (There ya go Auntie!) One woman pushes twice and her baby is born; her sister struggles two days and ends up having a C section. It’s ludicrous and unfair and I think that’s what my aunt was trying to tell me. She should know. She’s lost a mama, two sisters, her aunts, husbands and God don’t even know how many girlfriends.
Today I took a walk in stubby snow. It felt marvelous to press cool, innocent air into my lungs, then whoosh! out of the blue I realized I hadn’t thought of Mama all day. I swooned against a tree then became really, really sad. Snow turned into gravel. The sadness chewed my skin as I remembered she’s gone. And there I was, trapped in grief’s tunnel in cheap snow boots too thin to keep my feet dry. Suddenly my cute little trot morphed into a death march and that was grief. For me. Today.
Tomorrow it’ll be the chokehold of memory as I pay for my grapes and bagels at the grocery store. Next Thursday, the Grief Heifer might come dressed as the pistolwhip of co-workers at the elevator talking about the Christmas gifts their parents gave them or the gash of finding my mother’s picture behind the dresser. Most likely it’ll be the blunt force trauma of not being able to call her or watch my little boys play basketball while she screams beside me at Coach Richard’s bad calls.
Grief is all these for me and maybe none of these for you but thank goodness I don’t have to define it for anyone but me.