Grief isn’t just for the dead. People can grieve just about anything. I am glad I left an abusive marriage and I grieve the life I thought I had. I am estranged from my parents and I grieve the childhood I deserved. I grieve for the harm I’ve done my body on a quest to be thin and beautiful. I grieve for the cats I left behind when I left my husband. I grieve for relationships I thought would last a lifetime.
And yes, I grieve for my dead.
I lost my stepfather in March 2018 but could not grieve him for months, because he died the week I left my husband, and my heart and mind could not bear to stop and rest for tears because I didn’t know that I’d be able to start again. It took me months to feel safe enough to be sad about losing him.
And once I did, the grief came in flutters and quick starts and sudden flows of tears I didn’t know were waiting.
Grief came in seeing work vans with ladders on top. For a long time, whenever I saw a work truck I would cry in my car. Because he once drove that kind of van, and now he didn’t.
Grief came when I checked my old voicemails and saw one from my mom, which I listened to only to hear his voice coming out telling me to answer my phone.
Grief came when an ex-partner told me offhandedly that a buddy from work had to get a new furnace. I found out about my stepdad’s cancer only because I called and texted him when my own furnace went out.
Grief came when a friend’s father died and my first thought was “I went through this when my husband’s father died” and it took me days to realize I had lost my own parent too, and somehow forgotten.
Grief came when I could not figure out how to operate a lawnmower and I realized I had no one to call to explain it to me.
Grief came at Thanksgiving, when my sister and I displayed three photos of him alongside a glass of red wine and a lit candle with Hank Williams playing too loud from the television.
How grief changes
At Thanksgiving, the grief was almost pleasant. It was something my sister and I shared quietly as we decided how best to honor him. The music made us laugh and was a last minute addition. “We should play old music really loud on the tv,” I suggested, and she found a playlist immediately. We talked to him as we passed the side table with his photos and his wine. I picked out a bottle with a funny label I thought he would like. It had a giraffe on it.
But it took us a long time to get here.
Before the Thanksgiving 2019 memorial table with the funny wine bottle and the photos, I sobbed to a candle telling him all about what I’d gone through in the past few months for Father’s Day 2018. Before being able to send my sister a text about something that reminded me of him, I had months of crying when I saw ladders on vans.
Grief is a time bomb
Grief sucks, and it hurts. And it’s not linear at all. Some days may feel completely normal. Other days may feel like you are falling apart at a molecular level and nothing will ever be okay again.
I’m coming up on a five year anniversary of losing a friend I hadn’t talked to in years. He died when we were 26 years old. He was my first best friend. The grief still splits me open out of nowhere sometimes.
Grief doesn’t make any sense, so there’s no magical formula I can give you for getting through it. I can tell you that you will come out the other side if you give yourself the space to feel all of the feelings.
Let yourself grieve whatever you lost, even if it feels silly. Even if it’s crying about vans with ladders.
Grief will bubble out of you in some of the strangest ways. The more time you spend beating yourself up for how weird your grief looks is time you’re not spending doing the actual grieving.
Just let it be weird.