6.3 Editor's Pick
November 16, 2019

Sometimes Grief wants Anonymity. Sometimes Grief needs Witnessing. {Chapter 6}

*Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series—lucky you. Head to the author’s profile to continue reading.

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“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” ~ William Shakespeare, Macbeth

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Grief and loneliness seek company in anonymity, and in community.

It’s a heavy, grievey kind of day.

There’s no shame in grieving: leaning into sadness, taking thick breaths as we drop burdens from our hearts, making mistakes, making space, and making more love.  

It’s good to live in a place where people crowd the library for a noontime, classical music concert. Amidst their busy Monday, a whole mass of humans gathering, making space for beauty. 

Notes drift from the crowded room into the half-as-much crowded hallway, bodies stuffing the door. I was late. I can’t get into the concert room, so I settle myself on a big wooden table just outside the open glass double doors, pulling my feet up. I listen. I wish I was more of an aficionado—then I’d know what’s being played. I’m not. 

Soft laughter drifts through the open doors as a violin begins to sing. Tingling begins in my kidneys and swiftly travels down my legs as the flute trills. I’m plenty warm in my dark jeans, thick socks, black ankle boots, two layers of sweaters—one cashmere—and my flower-embroidered, alpaca fingerless gloves. The outer doors keep opening for library patrons, but that’s not where this chill comes from, even in the drafty foyer.

It’s the music. 

Art makes my soul sing, my flesh quiver. I’m listening deeply and writing on my phone. It’s a happy cacophony out here in the hallway. People eating food from the little library cafe. They give 30 percent of their proceeds back to the library, says the sign. Laughter again, someone is being charming from the stage area. One of the musicians just announced what they’re now playing, but I couldn’t hear. 

The flute opens a passage in my chest and the chills move through again. The strings sing. My heart is being played right along with them. Brain fog clearing to the quaint sounds of…a harpsichord? I do believe. 

I want to close my eyes and drift away. I want to type. I want to cry. Tears blur the screen of my phone—grief as sweet as the notes drifting through the open glass double doors. 

More chills. 

The double doors on the back of my heart open and in my mind’s eye, I see a dove, as sweet as the music, take flight. I feel grateful I did not stay curled up in my cozy Pendleton-draped, corner chair, swaddled in my brain fog. Community evokes feelings that solitude can’t compete with. 

People aren’t good with grief. They’re not really all that great with joy either, to be honest—not in our society. But we cannot wholeheartedly celebrate if we cannot wholeheartedly mourn.

The notes drifting through the open glass double doors are light, bright, joyful! 

Someone has spent hours honing this craft, drawing these tones from wood and brass instruments, a creative cooperation between artist and elements. I appreciate this as my pointer finger, peeking through my grey fingerless glove, draws lines across the flat screen of my phone, evoking words as they—playing—evoke these notes. 

Pause. 

Listen. 

Feel! 

I believe they call that a crescendo. My spine straightens. The music lifts. The harpsichord does a butterfly dance through the open glass double doors, into the hallway round people eating lunch and a boy in black winter boots playing hopscotch on the tiles of the hallway. 

The manic harpsichord butterfly sounds a bit anxious, temporarily, before the violin comes to the rescue and the room bursts into applause and relieved laughter. 

I’m shivering and about to cry. 

This is how it is to be human. So many elements in any moment. It makes me wonder about the worlds in which these people live, who have all come together over their lunch hour to listen to music in the library. Some are probably ill. Some have probably recently lost someone or something of deep importance to them. Some may be pregnant, expecting new life, as my own daughter is, and I have a new role to learn a new craft, the art of being a grandmother. 

I look up and there’s a fresh baby! She’s dressed in blue, with little white and blue patterned pants and blue and white socks. She’s staring at me, blue eyes still clouded in innocence, thick with wonder, her chubby cheeks raised in my direction, rosebud lips parted. Drool. 

Babies like me. They see my light. I’m less dull than many adults, especially my aura and also how I dress—lots of green today, earthy-piney textures, and in warmer weather, my tattoos bold—colorful. 

The music ends.

The open glass double doors suddenly fill with people dressed for the weather. Coats: navy, red, black; hats: soft, brown, Stetsons, and beanies; boots: tall, short, thick, stomping and shuffling. 

The brick wall covered in paintings depicting what easily look like local scenes from different seasons, now obscured. Today we’re in the grey-white, brown and black season, a melting, messy fall day.

I wait for my friend who’s with his daughter. She’s trying to stuff a giant slab of some kind of pastry bread into her tiny pockets. She giggles when I point out the pocket of her dad’s yellow hoodie and tucks her treat safely away. She then launches into telling me about her bike, a continuation of the conversation we had upon first meeting, when she’d excitedly blurted to me, a stranger, about getting her training wheels off.

It’s red with purple trim and blue writing down the side, her bike; she bubbles as we make our way to our respective cars through the dreary day. We say farewell. I sit in my car waiting for it to warm. I’m a bit sad and more than a bit hungry for something warm for my heart—more community and something warm for my belly: soup.

Quick drive to downtown co-op. Quaint downtown, with its brick buildings and people milling around on this grey, grey day. Grief lurks beneath my warm-winter layers, a grief I don’t want to be alone with, but a grief I don’t want to share, either. 

Sometimes, silently sharing grief with people who have no idea who you are or what’s going on brings solace. 

So does soup. Thick, creamy clam chowder, more than I need, with fresh baked seedy baguettes and people-watching. Settling at a singles bar that claims to be made from green materials by a local artist, I slip into my soup. Rain spatters the window that looks out on the corner of Black and Main. I’m staring at the corner of my bank, an ugly building, black and grey. Modernism and utility have a way of ruining the quaint.

Grief is inconvenient; a nuisance, an unbearable contemplation for some, utterly alien or terrifying for too many. 

I know when I mourn I make space for love. Not the love that would fill that space—that wouldn’t really be love. Space in which love can breathe. That is the gift of grief. 

A man, nice and dressed for work in tan Carhartt pants and a dingy blue baseball cap, has come and gone and still I swim in my soup. I once cried into a bowl of soup, lentil I believe, in this very co-op over a man—or a few. Apparently I like to come downtown to cry in my soup. 

I snort at my own melodrama. 

Then smile. 

Silly drama. You make yourself so important. Every single person in here is most likely struggling with something. This guy now next to me is dressed in blue; a chill runs through my whole being as I see the theme. 

They’re all in blue. Because I’m blue?

The goddess smiles across my back, between my shoulder blades, right where those double doors had opened, and the dove escaped. 

Tears.

Not the explosive kind released like last time; these are sweet behind my eyes. Cleansing. Opening. That chill races through me again, rising truth bumps. 

I’m not afraid of you, grief. I love your messages, bittersweet. You lurked behind my brain fog this morning, hiding as the sun hides behind the grey. 

It’s okay.

I’m not mad.

Not afraid. 

The man in blue gobbled his brownie. Gone now, the treat and the man. 

Michael Kiwanda was singing about his “Cold Little Heart when I came in. My toes are cold, but not my heart. Grief surprisingly warms my soul. Not the howling kind I’ve come to know, but the sweet kind that drifts on waves of classical music, through open glass double doors. The kind that lurks at the bottom of giant clam chowder bowls. Grief that whispers, “Let me breathe,” when the backs of hearts open and doves take wing. 

This is the grief that sweetly smiles at people on the street passing by, the grief that breathes—you are not alone

Sigh.

Clearing my dishes and heading out the back of the co-op, through glass double doors, ready for home, I stumble smack dab into the sweetest embrace. Mother and daughter hold me fiercely, gently without knowing what they do—just doing it. They’re grown women, short-curly hair, both of them, bundled in tan and pink cashmere against the chill. 

As we touch and hug and chat—catching up—the tears that have lingered behind the scenes break through the curtains of my eyelashes, sparkling behind my violet-framed glasses, landing on my cheeks. 

Sometimes grief wants anonymity. Sometimes grief needs witnessing. In the warm embrace of unexpected community, I dissolve, surrendering into this beautiful opening.  

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