By Casey Cummings
There is no way to describe grief in a simple sentence that would be easy enough for a kid to understand, and there is no way to put it that would give someone an understanding of what it feels like, and there is no way to prepare for it. It hurts, it’s unforgiving, it’s exhausting, it’s numbing, it’s tirelessly and hopelessly too much.
The grieving process is not the straight line some people hope it is going to be. When death comes, you are numb for a while, people bring you breakfast and cry with you in your living room, candles are lit, and the services are a blur. You go through the five stages, you learn to heal, and then you’re all done. If I am being honest, the five stages of grief are a load of crap. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. That is the order that the online searches of desperation give you, and that is all they give. What Google doesn’t tell you is that someday you are going to be angry and the next day you feel like you have come to some sort of peace, and then the next day you hurt so badly that a promised smoothie couldn’t even get you out of bed. There is no timeline, there is no direct process, and there is no way someone could tell you how to do it.
There are things that help, don’t get me wrong. Coping strategies are honestly the best aid you are going to find when grieving. Some people write, that’s what I do. Some people turn to their faith and some people turn to a therapist. Fidget toys and happiness in a pill. Drowning yourself in work, food, substance abuse, anything you can get your hands on. Coping methods are hit or miss. You try one and turn to another when the first attempt doesn’t work. That is just how it is, one try and you move on. It isn’t that you want to give up. The weight that you feel on your chest and shoulders and legs and heart is just too heavy to wait around and give something another try. You learn to decide what is worth keeping around and what makes things harder to heal. Sometimes you have to shut out people and sometimes you have to shut out every single thing that reminds you of what has been lost. Triggers and reminders give you chills or scary thoughts or sadness or relief. Every day of grief is different. It is a rollercoaster with thousands of loops within each other.
The most irritating part of grief is how people try to understand and help when they’ve never gone through anything similar. “I am so sorry, you are so strong,” or “I know he is watching over you,” or “Don’t have regrets.” To someone grieving, hearing these things feels like a punch to the gut. The intentions are kind, but it is the reactiveness rather than proactiveness that doesn’t give any sense of ease. All grievers know their strength. Getting out of bed each day is enough in itself. Our world fell apart while others watched and moved on. That hurts more than anyone could ever imagine, and we can’t do anything about it because that is not ours to control. Focus, hope, and happiness are crippled so deeply that every emotion death brings takes over. It is a sad reality, truly. Besides your family, no one will understand what has actually happened. And even within your own family there are going to be differences. A 16-year-old sister who is now an only child and just trying to find her way through high school while maintaining her grades and losing friends and forming her future. A mom who lost her firstborn child, who put her all into his care and fights every day to make sure her daughter is getting by, putting her before everything. A father who lost his best friend and can’t even explain how he is feeling. Grief is scary and strange and everything in between. No one knows how to deal with it, and everyone turns to different things. There is no process, no matter who tells you that and what you read online.
I don’t know how one could put grief into words and I don’t think one will ever learn. It is a weight that you now carry and will never find the destination to drop it off. Grief is never paradise; it is a whole lot of pain. But the pain you feel is because of the love that is there and lives forever. Death might take away who you love, however you will never stop loving them. But how is love redefined now that it coexists with grief? Do you love them just the same, or even more? To the world, that emotion is only present when you do things that your person loves. On their birthdays and holidays, you feel love and know they are with you. “They are loving you from heaven!” Well maybe. But who decided that you had the power to say that? No one has the power to speak for your emotions and your loved ones’ emotions because we just don’t know. But what we do know is that we actually hate doing the things that we saw they did every day. We hate birthdays and holidays; we have no reason to celebrate. You claim that they love us from heaven, but they aren’t even here to show it. There are no hugs, no comfort, nothing that even points to us getting love. But it synchronizes with grief because it is there, just in a different way. Love is there through the joy when we finally accomplish something. Love is there when you follow your dreams, and you know your brother is proud. Love is there when you are holding your mom so tight that her sobs become earth-shattering, but you are crying with her. The togetherness. Love is there when you reminisce with your dad about the April Fools prank you played on him, a glass of water with a surprise. You feel their love within you, not when you do things that they loved. It’s not around you, but it is a part of your heartbreak. It is within each bond of the hydrogen and oxygen that make up your oh so present tears. It is the bass of your screams and the transitions of your words. And that is what a kid should learn about grief.
Grief is a whole lot of love.