I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately. (full disclosure: I’m always thinking a lot about grief). I don’t want to brag, but I’m kind of a grief expert. It’s been a constant presence in our lives for over three years and I’ve studied it from all angles. Well… I’ve studied our own grief.
It so happens, we don’t actually own the monopoly in this area. Shocking, right?
My daughter’s BFF lost her dad just over a year ago and my boyfriend lost his partner and mother of their son just over 2 years ago.
Sometimes I look around our ever expanding kitchen table and wonder if I’m actually running a support group for kids who’ve lost a parent (donations welcome), but holy fuck am I ever glad we all found each other.
Because of them, I’m stepping out our world and witnessing grief from an outside lens. I’m learning that grief is different for everyone and that we all manage it in different ways. I’m learning not to push my own ways of coping onto others (even though I *am* an expert). And as I loosen the reigns on my ownership of grief, I’m also expanding my definition. Grief comes in all shapes and sizes and it’s not all about losing a parent or spouse. With any loss comes grief.
In fact, grief is not even always about missing the person. It’s often more about the missed opportunities. It’s about knowing there’ll never be another chance to try again. It’s about being forced to give up that picture in your head of what things are supposed to look like. It’s about acknowledging (through clenched teeth) that you just can’t save everyone. (you can repeat this back to yourself if you need to: You Can Not Save Everyone.)
According to the textbooks, we lost the kids’ Dad due to a “traumatic death”. Yes, it was sudden and traumatic and in many respects it was different than losing someone who had battled a (more visible) disease for years. And yes, for me grief and trauma are so intertwined that I am incapable of discerning where one joyride ends and the other takes over. But does it matter? Isn’t all death traumatic? From what I’ve witnessed around my kitchen table death club, grief is grief (trauma included, free of charge).
Other free bonuses to grief include (but are not limited to) the following:
- impossible sleep patterns.
- separation anxiety.
- random triggers.
Let me say that again (because clearly, I like repetition). Grief is impossible fucking sleep patterns, separation anxiety to the max and random triggers outta nowhere! All of which can apparently go on for three years and counting. There is a common understanding in our group, that people you love could disappear. Sometimes without warning. But even if you have warning, you’re never really ready. Which is probably why sleeping is so hard.. zzzz….. oh wait, where was I?
And so we’re gentle with each other. We fist pump each other as we take turns with exhaustion. We’re learning to recognize the special blend of melancholy that shows up in ourselves and each other and hold space for that to happen. We’re not trying to fix things (my biggest challenge) because we don’t really want, or need to be fixed. Grieving is good. Get that shit out. Cry. Bathe yourself in sage smudges. Stamp your feet. Scream at the injustice of life. Scream at the people who tell you to just be positive and that good things happen to good people. Fuck that. Bad shit happens to good people every single day, no matter how positive you are. Everyone around my kitchen table knows that. Mark special dates and anniversaries and celebrate them. In my (expert) experience, even if you try to ignore them, they’ll creep up behind you. And while we’re celebrating, celebrate life with as much exuberance and ridiculousness as you can muster. We may be sleep-deprived and a little anxious but we certainly know how to have a good time.
If you are grieving (and who isn’t), find your space at a kitchen table or make room at your own for others. Who cares if they aren’t experiencing exactly the same kind of grief as you. Always cook more food than you need. Set extra placemats for those who just show up. No judgement. No fixing. Don’t worry – there will be an abundance of love and laughter (particularly if you’ve developed a fondness for dark humour, like the rest of us). We’ve got this. We’ve got each other.
Amendment: As I was just about to post, I learned that a friend from high school has passed away. She was part of my kitchen table club (from afar) since her husband died a couple years ago. We hadn’t seen each other in over 20 years but would send occasional messages of support and stories of the trials and tribulations of raising kids from this unique perspective. She was a beautiful soul and a loving mother and my heart is breaking beyond control for her family. Please keep them in your thoughts.