August 30, 2018

This is Grief. {Poem}

“You know me so well,” she says.

I know her,
but what I truly know is grief.

And that is why I can give her editing tips for her brother’s celebration of life pamphlet.
I know that nobody cares about
punctuation or font size
at events like this.

I know how many more hours she will work to make it perfect for him,
so she can honor him for as long as possible,
in whatever way possible.

I know her well.

But before I knew her,
I got to know grief.

I know how afraid grief makes you of the quiet,
of the dark.

How hard grief makes you work to keep your mind
out of the depths.

How grief makes you cling to every small memory like they were
buckets of water
in a drought.

As if somehow words he penned,
books that he read,
or clothes that he wore
contain his life’s breath,
and will keep him in this world with you a little longer.

They say that the depths of our grief represent the fullness of our love.
This feels pretty bottomless.

I know how grief will make you avoid the parties
and the phone calls, because
if you just stay here,
suspended in this moment,
maybe life won’t go on without him.

Maybe you will never again
have to answer the question
“How many siblings do you have?”
“How many kids?”
“Are you dating anyone?”

It will lead to a sad story,
and you don’t want to ruin that kind stranger’s day,
so you dodge the question altogether.

Mostly, though,
you don’t want to ruin your own day.
You have just finally, fragilely patched yourself
You can’t risk a leak,
and if you spoke his name
you would.

Right now,
you can’t speak his name without cracking.
You’ve erased the words
“He died”
from your vocabulary.

Right now,
you don’t yet know how life could go on without him.

it will.
You will.
And it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do.

One day,
you might not feel resentful toward people who have not lived through death.
One day,
you might not judge people harshly for not keeping in touch with their loved ones because they don’t realize what a gift it is to still have all their loved ones.
One day.

Until that day comes,
keep remembering all the gifts their life brought.
It will help you.
Feel more kindness and less resentfulness.

I know the dreams you will have and where he will be.
I know that you will hear his voice and
feel his warmth telling you he would never
leave his family, and
you will be so relieved during that dream and,
while you are in it,
you will shudder at
how real the nightmare of his death felt.

And I know
that grief will rip you away come morning, and
it will feel like that dream was your
real life and that your real life is your worst
all at the same time.

I know that all you want to do is go back to that dream with him where you walked together
in your grandmother’s garden
in the sun.

I know how grief will pull you toward people who know him…
or is it knew him?
Because together,
you can take the shields off your hearts and sit with it all,
without having to ever speak his name.

I have seen the shadows on the faces of my family, and
the shakes in their hands when moments of silence come, and
I know what their eyes are seeing, and
how their hands and mine had to say a final goodbye.

As pallbearers
bearing witness to the grief of the hundreds of others who gathered, as
we each bore the impossible weight of the loss on our own.

I hope my family never reads this,
because I don’t want them to ever go back to that place again.

I also know that inside of grief there is


that turns grief inside out and shines light into all the black places we have been.

When death cracks us into a million pieces,
it opens us up to the truth of who we are,
burns our armor away, and
annihilates any threshold we had against pain.

Grief lays us bare for all to see.

For a while you will shy away from this.

It will feel like you are looking straight into the sun every time you step out into the world.
Every word, every step, every interaction will be like fire on
exposed nerves, and it will be
too much for you to handle, but
still you will walk on.

there is another side to grief.

I know this side of grief only a little right now,
but we are becoming closer friends every day.
This is the side that shows up when you brave your new world, your new
When you walk the precipice between your grief and your love,
you give permission to every person you meet to put down their shields and to let their hearts be seen.

That is one of the gifts of grief,
though it may take years to get there.
To be so strong in your vulnerability and presence that you
allow others to peek into their own
hearts and realize
it is safe.
That they are seen and
they are not alone.

This is one of those gifts that your loved one had, that everyone felt,
but could never articulate until they were

To meet them was to know them.
To meet them was to be seen like never before.

I know that one day you won’t think of their absence
every moment of
every day.
You might feel guilty at first, but this is what you have to do
to move forward.

Grief has taught me that the human body is resilient and that the brain will seek ways to find
moments of happiness.
I know this because, one day,
I started to notice the way the sun shines on the leaves as it rises,
and how it kisses the mountaintops good night,
how glad the birds and dogs are to greet the day,
and how beautiful the stars were when I watched them come out in the middle of a quiet

This is another side of grief that I know.

I know how, when grief turns into
you will cling to simple, childlike pleasures,
because in joy you are close to them,
and so you have to make room for joy.

You have to make time for joy like it’s your goddamn winning lottery ticket.

I know that when grief turns into love, it is the happier moments that get recalled, and it feels like
warmth instead of ice
when their name comes up in

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