August 24, 2020

How to Hold Grief & Gratitude in Both Hands.

Grief visits me this morning.

It starts with a gust of homesickness.

I’m reading a memoir about Alaska, and soon I’m bone-missing her, longing for the slate, moss, and drench of home.

I take the dog for a walk in the woods, and each of us have our own experience. She sprints and chases chipmunks, leaps into a bog of mud, rinses herself off in the creek, and digs: these ancient instincts, tethered to the dirt, water, and the living, lead her away and back, away and back.

Meanwhile, my eyes take in the knotted roots, the reaching treetops, and the sky, uninterrupted by mountains.

My feet touch the earth while my mind remembers home—remembers my dad and my brother. My mind circles back to them in the same way the dog returns to me—loyal and constant.

I believe that places and people—whether they have left us or we have left them—come to reside within us.

This is sometimes called a chimera: when a being carries more than one set of DNA. Fetal cells often haunt the bodies of their mothers decades after they’ve given birth.

We carry our dead, our homelands, and our stories in our blood and bones. In the fascia protecting our hearts, in our teeth, in our soft and sharp dreams.

“I miss you, I miss you, I miss you,” I whisper.

The dog darts off, then returns. Grief rises up in me, and I begin to cry.

At first a little, then more, and then that little girl is sobbing—breathless, cheek-slick crying.

The earth absorbs my sadness, as it knows the cycles of loss and growth, impermanence and erosion. It knows the cycle of surrender.

I continue to walk, counting my losses on one hand. The slate blue thread of them seems to be woven through everything. My dad, my brother, the dearest of friends, security, predictable childcare, freedom, and routine.

How hard this life can be.

And then I recall the other hand.

The treetops arc above me as I walk and as I try to summon golden gratitude for having a life so rich with love: my kids, my husband, our dog, my mom, and my friends. I have health, home, and a sun-warm thread wind around the delicate bones of this hand.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I utter to the forest.

I try to imagine the two hands clasped. Loss and luck. Slate blue and dandelion yellow, the cords coiling around each other, enhancing and igniting each other.

Perhaps this is how to build a strong human heart: to marry these two hands.

To hold everything lightly while loving fiercely.

To feel grief and gratitude braid together, moss green and bittersweet.

To whisper “I miss you and thank you” in the same sweet and swollen breath.



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