I am something of a grief expert, if you will. That’s not to say that I have mastered it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I have been through many kinds of grief in my life, and I have finally learned that it will never go away. I have learned that I will be living with these experiences for as long as I am myself. And I have learned that griefs are shared- and that they shouldn’t be hidden away.
I was 3 years old when I learned about grief. My grandfather passed away. I have a few memories from that time. The biggest hints come from my mother, who tells me about how I would sit by the door and cry for him, hoping he would walk in. Once I realized he wasn’t coming back, the concept of death haunted me. I walked around the house singing Skeeter Davis’s “End of The World”, a ballad about a breakup that implied that all life ended with the goodbye. I would pack emergency bags when I heard about storms on the television, ready to hide in the basement at a moment’s notice; Not realizing the storms were in other cities or states. I would check out the book “On Death and Dying” from the library every other week, since I was only allowed one book at a time. I had to go to the non-fiction section on the adult’s side of the library to get it, which scared me a little, but it brought my comfort.
But the losses didn’t stop, and death followed me throughout adolescence. I learned to fear loss. I learned to grieve long before the loss occurred. It started when my sister and I won a goldfish at a Purim carnival. By the time we got them home, they were in bad shape. Her fish was dead before nightfall. I wept and wept for hours over the loss of my own poor fish, until I fell asleep. When I woke the next morning, he was gone. With a solemn nod, I acknowledged the loss, and then went in search of breakfast, leaving my bewildered mother at the foot of my bed.
Sometime in my early 20s, I learned that loss is inevitable, whether I grieved before or after. So, I put up a screen-a clear window I could hide behind when feelings came at me. At first, I could open it when I wanted to let feelings in and close it when I got overwhelmed. But eventually, it shut, and I forgot it was there. I lived behind it permanently, never fully experiencing anything- not the good or the bad.
Then when I turned 30, I lost my pregnancy at 16 weeks. But from the moment I’d become pregnant, I’d been crying. I’d known my daughter wasn’t mine to keep. And once she was gone, I just got up with my solemn nod and tried to get on with my life.
But this time, it didn’t work. Somehow, the grief had gotten behind the window I’d forgotten was there. I needed to open it to let it out, but that was going to let all the other things back in.
Eventually I did open the window, and I remembered. I remembered all the pain and sorrow. I remembered all the hurt that I was ignoring. I remembered what it felt like to cry...but I also remembered that not all the tears were bad. I remembered how to hope. I remembered how it felt to really love and be loved - and I remembered how to feel like I had grown.
There is an old saying- "Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red Sky at morning, Sailors take warning." I have had my shares of red skies, both at night, and in the early hours. I have not always listened. I have had my share of mourning.
So, I am sharing some of my grief with you, in case they are yours too. Or in case you may just want to read about what someone else has gone through. Or maybe just to write them- I don’t really know. I hope they speak to you. I know they’ve shaped me.
Thanks for reading.