Over the past decade grief and I have reluctantly become friends. Grief is not the kind of friend I can call in the middle of the night when I am sad, but rather the kind of friend who sits quietly at the end of my bed while I cry myself to sleep. Grief may be away for weeks or even months at a time, but the knock of this friend is now as familiar to me as my own voice. There is no need to explain my sorrow to grief; she understands my process better than I do. Grief knows I will get up again no matter how hard I have been hit by her power, and patiently stands as a witness to my ability to regain my balance time and time again. When grief calls, I stop what I am doing because I have learned that she must be answered. When I quit trying to escape her, I found an unexpected comfort by her side. She calls me and repels me; guides me and confuses me; moves me forward and throws me back.
Some days I hate grief, and other days I miss her. I have discovered a safe place in her arms, though her twisting, turning path won’t allow me to be still for long. Her presence has added a soft cadence to my day-to-day life that I have come to rely on as confirmation that I am, indeed, alive. The irony of this does not escape me. I have realized that in my mind grief has replaced Phil, and that my fear of letting him go has created a relationship with grief I could never have anticipated.
I am beginning to believe that this is why grief comes in waves. If grief was linear and we could walk from one stage into the next, there would likely be large numbers of grieving people with severe stage fright. I would be terrified if someone were able to provide me with a grief graduation date. Instead, grief throws us from one phase to the next, with no predictable pattern or discernible course. Like a boxer who learns to fight on their feet, our tortured, grieving selves wheel from one moment to the next watching for the inevitable gut punch. And slowly, painfully we become stronger, faster, and more confident each time we are forced into the ring. That doesn’t mean we won’t hit the mat, or that we won’t be tempted to stay down for the count…but somehow our spirits find the will to fight one more time.
Grief holds the towel as we come out of the ring. Grief bandages our wounds and then sends us to face the opponent called death, again and again. Grief stands behind the stool in our corner and insists we go another round. There is a saying that speaks to the concept that some friends come into our lives for a purpose, but do not stay long. I am beginning to think of grief as a friend who will come and go from my life. She will show me how to survive in the ring of sorrow, and then leave me with these hard earned knocks hoping they teach me something about living courageously. Grief will also point out that she is not Phil and that he is not her. He exists in a separate, and timeless, place that she does not inhabit. Grief is wise. And eventually I must let her go, knowing that when she resurfaces, sometime down the road, I will greet her as a friend.