Here’s one super crummy aspect of grief – it interrupts our life at the most unsuspecting times and in the most unexpected ways. It catches us off guard and completely ill prepared for the hailstorm of emotions that follow. It stomps around in your world, and on your heart, and it doesn’t give a rat’s ass how you feel or what its interrupting. It comes when it wants and you are helpless to defend yourself against the attack, and the holidays seem to provide the perfect time for this to occur.
As I talked about in my first blog, the unpacking of Christmas decorations can bring grief to the center of our hearts. Seeing certain ornaments or hearing a song can push you over the brink, when you had no idea you were even near the edge. Christmas Eve morning of 2016 was one of those days for me.
It had been 18 days since Don had died. I sat on my couch with a cup of coffee, my phone in hand, and mindlessly opened FB. I was not prepared to see the memory FB was sharing, or experience the surge of emotions that flooded over me as I sat staring at a picture of us, from last Christmas Eve. We were standing in front of a Christmas tree at church and smiling – and as I looked at that picture – I was filled with a mixture of emotions – but for a moment – I was simply numb. It was as if my mind and heart were having a conference call to decide how they were going to handle this moment – and unlike most conference calls I’ve ever been on – this one was very quick and efficient. Evidently, the unanimous decision was that I was going to come undone.
I felt the grief quickly rising up in my body and within seconds I was sobbing. Not just crying. This was an immediate explosion of tears and gasps and sobs. And with each sob I emitted, my body shook and bent me forward just a little. I felt like I was turned inside out.
I was no longer in control of me – grief had taken over and was routing my emotions, and my entire body was in full surrender to its commands. It was evident that this was not going to be a short-lived interruption – this was a full-on grief attack – lamenting without the ashes and sackcloth.
I went back to my room, grabbed a picture off my nightstand of me and Don, and then fell into my bed and wept – hard. As I pressed that picture to my chest and sobbed, I curled my entire body around it like a ball. I held that picture against my body with such intensity, I’m surprised I wasn’t bruised. It seemed as if I thought that if I could wrap myself around it tightly enough, I could bring Don back. And as I held onto our picture, I could feel sorrow penetrate every part of my body and I physically hurt. I was experiencing the kind of grief that is so consuming, so cavernous, you wish you could pass out and find some momentary relief from it – but that has never happened for me – and so instead – I laid there in a state of what felt like unending agony.
At some point my kids came in my room and in a form of role reversal, they got into my bed and just held me – and together we cried. I knew they were hurting as well, but in that moment, they hurt more because they understood the deep-deep despair I was feeling, and they knew there was nothing they could do or say to take it away. I eventually feel asleep and when I woke back up, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just wanted to stay there and die. I wanted to be raptured to heaven and escape the torment of living. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really a viable option.
Like I said earlier, it was Christmas Eve, and I hadn’t yet decided whether or not I was going to go to church for the Christmas Eve service or stay home. As I lay in bed, I considered each option and the subsequent emotional landslide I would likely experience with each choice, and neither really seemed like a win for me, and for a while, the thought of staying in bed and waiting to die, still seemed like an acceptable possibility.
After agonizing over whether or not I would go to the service, I finally decided I would – and yes – it was horrible. I cried from the beginning to the end. My shoulders shook, tears streamed down my face and snot dripped from my nose. But I was with people I loved and people who loved me and Don – and even amidst the pain – there was a connection to the past that was comforting. As we held up our candles and sang Silent Night, I looked around the room and I thought about Don. I thought about how much he loved this part of the service, and then I thought about heaven – and I wondered what it must be like to sing that song in front of the very one it was written about – and for a moment – it was beautiful. Even my heartache seemed to have a place within the beauty, and grief finally relinquished its control. It was almost like it ceded to the tranquility and holiness that this occasion was due – and in reverence bowed its head.
As I look back, I remember lying in bed on that awful day and reminding myself that these feeling wouldn’t always be so sharp – how did I know that? Because I’d been down this path 10 years before when I lost Greg. I have a knowing that seems almost unfair at times. I know that I won’t always have to give grief the attention it requires in these early stages of loss, and in some odd way, that’s comforting to me.
I know that these grief interruptions don’t ever stop, but it won’t always be so acrid and vile. Is it traumatic in the early days and months and even the first year(s) – yes. I don’t want to say that grief necessarily softens, but as time moves forward and we are forced to amble along with it, the frequency that it visits, subsides – and I say this not as one who has never felt the searing pain of a devastating loss, but as one who has had her heart taken apart and reassembled numerous times.
Finally, regardless of where you are in your grief journey, know that there are other people who understand how devastating these interruptions can be – especially during the holidays. Sometimes just knowing we aren’t alone and that times of celebration can be filled with unforeseen landmines can be a comfort. So, from my reassembled heart to yours, may you be reminded that you are not alone and that your pain is real and when you fall apart for seemingly no reason – those of us who have been there and will be again, understand.