What Grief Teaches
Melancholy by Albert Gyorgy in Geneva, Switzerland
On the snowy drive to school yesterday, I blasted Taylor Swift and danced in front of my two boys to see if I could get a giggle. Making my kids laugh is one of my favorite past times.
My older son sat in the front seat and gave me what I was after, rolling his eyes and shaking his head with a smile.
My younger son was not amused. He hates Taylor Swift, and can we ever listen to music HE likes? For once in his life?!
I imagine it's hard to be the youngest, sometimes. I remember going out to lunch with my youngest brother, both of us in our 30's at the time, and he confessed that he was used to being spoken for by his older siblings. I told him that I didn't even realize he was an adult until he was like 28 or maybe until that very moment, at lunch. It was a light conversation, both of us laughing.
But sometimes I see a similar sense of solitude in my youngest son. I remember my little brother's sentiments, when I gaze in the rearview mirror and catch my youngest staring off into the distance, completely silent until engaged, as the other two swirl on in stories from their day.
Yesterday, he was yelling from the back seat as my oldest son and I carried on to T. Swift up front.
"I hate this song!!!! Change this music!" He shouted while we drove.
I dropped my oldest off at his school, and we made our way to my youngest's school. I snapped at him amid his yells.
"I'm only gonna change it if you stop carrying on like this!" I was sharp. And he was quiet the rest of the drive.
I changed the music as we rode along, this time to John Mayer's acoustic version of Free Fallin', one we both love.
When we rolled up to his school, I stopped to let him out. He wouldn't move. He wouldn't grab his bag, or look at me, though we were running late.
"Buddy, what's going on? It's time for school!"
I looked back at his downcast eyelids and quivery lip. I reached for him. He didn't reach back.
"Buddy?! Oh my gosh, are you okay?" He let himself cry then, and I knew I'd hurt his feelings.
The song, alone, makes both of us weepy. But seeing his pouty lip and tears, I couldn't help but cry, myself.
"I'm so sorry honey. I was too harsh. We are people, and we make mistakes. Sometimes we yell, or we snap. But we love each other, no matter."
He came forward to hug me then, all he needed, a gentle repair. I felt lucky to be loved by this sweet little man, who forgives so quickly.
We sat in the car for a good ten minutes after the bell rang so his eyes wouldn't look so red when he went in. He is starting to care what others think, so different from just last year. I'm used to it with my oldest two. But my youngest is still so open and tender-hearted.
We gave one final squeeze and he went inside. I watched him and started the song over so I could cry a tad more from the car. He toddled in with his big backpack, and the tiny ball on his snow hat bouncing.
I have become more comfortable with crying this year. The thing about starting over is there is just so much letting go. Nothing is a well run pattern because every little thing is new and fresh. Newness is inspiring. But it is also unfamiliar and unsteady. I feel like I'm living life with my knees bent - alive, but also unsure.
Boulder, where I lived before Bozeman, is always sunny. Even when it snows, the sun comes back right away to melt the briefly visiting snow. It calls everyone outside daily, and brings smiles to faces.
Bozeman, lately, has felt like Arendelle (Frozen reference for those of you without daughters). And I sometimes feel like Elsa in her castle up here on the snowy hill, all alone. Locals keep telling us this is "abnormal" to have this much snow in spring. Either way. It's fucking cold. And not so sunny.
I am good at being sunny. It is familiar, a well run path in my gushy brain bits. I can find the good in what is hard, I seek the best in people and experiences, and am generally optimistic.
But this year, as I've struggled with my own questions of meaning and direction, as I've watched my children have exciting highs and painful lows, as the comforts of home have felt farther and farther away while we've nested here, I have become more intimate with grief.
Though grief would never be my choice, I have learned a thing or two.
The thing about grief is that it brings you closer. To yourself, and to the important people around you.
There is a sun-shininess that is external, and is a strong habit and practice for daily living. I believe I have this kind of shine dialed. Maybe you do, too.
But there is a depth about grief that is calmer and not so buzzy as the surface-level sun. If you've known pain or loss, you know what I mean. That ache brings us inside and makes us quiet and reflective, the way the sun would argue against.
Of course, depth doesn't come from staying on the sunny outside at all times. Compassion for others is cute and hierarchical from the perspective of the sun, even patronizing, at times. (Though the sun would never realize this in itself).
Compassion is the only way through grief. A humbling, abiding exhale. A teary goodbye as your little man walks away, wiping his face and not looking back because he needs to swim in the river of other little fish, all trying to be people in this bumpy, bruisy, hurty world. No longer just in your cozy mama and son world.
Grief welds true depth and compassion, though none of us would choose its company willingly. Not just the sun-shiny bullshit kind of compassion, or the pretentious, erudite, ivy league kind of depth. But the real stuff. The stuff the BEST people you know are made of.
Grief is the only teacher to soften the edges of our lives, and widen the reservoirs of our hearts.
So, we must walk with grief, in whatever form it comes. We need not stuff it, run from, or hide it. And we certainly don't need to give it a title or a permanent residence. Just like joy, grief is a temporary, but important visitor.
I will always love and prefer the joyful sun. There's no doubt about that. But the underground world of grief has been a guide I didn't know I needed at this juncture. And I am a kinder, more humbled person for having held hands with it.
To letting your grief come,