Grief is an animal.
It greets you differently every time you meet it. You can try to meet it on your terms and with your timing. You can go prepared. You can bargain and bribe and bestow. But it’s an animal. It’s totally unpredictable.
Today is a big day on my grief calendar. But so far it doesn’t feel that way. And two weeks ago, on a day that had no calendar significance at all, I was snotting through Kleenex like it was the cool new thing.
Today is the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. And because my friend, Jennifer was always in tune with those dates, it is also the one-year anniversary of the last time I talked to her on the phone. Before the holidays got busy. And before she got sick.
I have been thinking about this year a lot lately. 2022. People often start the year with a focus word. One year I chose the word “intention.” Another year I chose “discipline,” which is a tiny bit comical in thinking about myself. Was I expecting a miracle? I didn’t choose a word for 2022, because 2022 got to make all the choices. It chose my words for me. Shredded. Shattered. Unraveled. Loss.
It took me apart.
But here at the end of it, I’m thinking back and looking forward and applying emotional glue and bungee cords to the pieces that don’t fit like they did 5 years ago, or one year ago.
I’m shredded, yes. I’m not the same me I was on December 8, 2021. And while I didn’t get to choose my circumstances–
Or my mother’s–
I do get to choose what I’ll do about it all.
And being shredded still leaves me with all the parts. They’re just a little more unhinged, maybe, and don’t always line up like I’d prefer.
Some words for my 2023 might include therapy and prayer, because I’ve certainly been doing plenty of both. But the two words that have risen to the top of my short list are “acknowledge” and “accept.” I am acknowledging that loss is often hard and lonely and dark. It zigzags when I prefer to move in an upward, linear direction. My people help so much, but the grieving and the healing is a solo act. In some ways it feels like starting from scratch with nothing. I am acknowledging that this is where I am and accepting that it’s okay to be here and start from here. I don’t plan to stay here. Acknowledge.
And though this past 11 months has hobbled me at times, I would be remiss if I didn’t give equal time to the beauty I’ve witnessed. I lost Jennifer. And there are no words I could arrange to convey the value of that friendship or the depth of that loss. But I gained perspective and people that I didn’t have before.
I gained her sister and her daughter and her mother and her friends.
I gained her kids’ friends.
I gained a new anchor in my faith that wasn’t there before.
I gained a solemn appreciation for how short–and how sweet–life is. I try to notice everything.
I gained the absolute assurance that she is with God and He is with me.
And for 3 decades, across marriages and children and celebrations and tragedies, I had her by my side. I had the best friend.
Last week, I was standing in my kitchen looking out on the Hillsborough River. It is a different river every day and I never get tired of looking at it. This time of year, the Cypress trees do their best to participate in Autumn. And the last hour of daylight casts them in their best color, with hues of orange and yellow deepening in the waning light. It occurred to me as I stood there that the most beautiful moment for a tree comes when it is about to drop its leaves. They are brilliant because they are dying. There is grace and sweetness in the end of something. The threshold between life and eternity is a sacred plot of ground.
So I scratched out my thoughts about that. And I thought again about the year ahead. There will always be darkness. I can’t know when or how I’ll run into the animal of grief. But I can look for the light and I can carry the light. My mother taught me how to do that. Jennifer modeled how to do that like no one I’ve ever seen. And in the shadows, God has given me people who are bright when I flicker. It is enough.
So things are different this year. I am different this year. And maybe I’m starting from scratch, in the sense that the ingredients are different and my structure has changed.
But I’m not starting with nothing.
I’m starting with everything I need.
The Color of Surrender
To let go of the green–does it hurt?
To let the November gold climb up your trunk–does it feel like dying?
Do you know you are beautiful?
You are beautiful.
Never more so that now,
In your surrender to what is.
The last hour of the day crawls up through your branches
and shoots out through your leaves,
reflecting a relinquishing light
in shards of glory.