Grief is a hell of a thing.
There’s an immediate sharpness that strikes you all at once, but it also persists in the slow burn of a lifetime. Grief is like an old friend who refuses to be ignored—he shows up every now and then and eats all your food, gets you drunk, and then leaves you trying to pick up the pieces. You look around the next day and wonder what the hell just happened? Grief happened.
You may shut out your troublesome friend from time to time, but he will come back whispering in your ear when you hear a certain song, smell a certain smell. You can’t make it go away because grief is a part of being human. Grief is a part of you.
In five years I will be as old as my father was when he died.
My son will be as old as I was then. It’s hard not to see a parallel there. It’s hard to find any wonder in that, but it’s there. You just have to look a little harder.
People with degrees in this sort of thing will tell you that the final stage of grief is acceptance. Anyone who has experienced a profound loss will tell you that as far as actionable advice goes, this advice is like telling someone to cheer up, get on their flying unicorn, and ride their rainbow to happy times land. It’s ridiculous. The final stage of grief is not acceptance. The final stage is the Genie Stage.
Ok fine, also ridiculous, but bear with me.
The Genie Stage is simply this – if a genie came out of a bottle and gave you the choice to go back in time and change the terrible thing that happened to you, would you follow through with it? For much of my life, that would have been a resounding yes, even though I am well versed on the trickery of genies. Then, I became a father and I wasn’t so sure.
As I grew up, occasionally I’d meet another member of the lost parents club and there would be a moment of recognition. Here was someone who knew. Smiling for a picture, he or she would wonder if it would go up on that little collage display thing at their funeral. Or the smell of flowers would bring to mind funeral homes. Maybe they’ve caught themselves composing a line to include in eulogies they’d give at their friend’s funerals. Most people I’ve come across from the club flounder around in that abyss their whole life. The genie never comes.
I was lucky enough to have supportive people around me to help me through it all. A lot of people are much worse off than I was, but then again grief is not some sort of morbid contest where my grief can beat up your grief. That’s just another way of ignoring the genie.
The whisper of wonder is in the eyes of those who come through the other side.
The grief I’ve experienced has made me the kind of father I am. It has led me to enjoy life at a different level. From the pain I’ve endured I have learned not to accept things that are wrong in my life for very long because I’ve seen firsthand how quickly things change. Without that pain I’d be a very different person, and even though it took a long while to see it this way, I count the grief I’ve endured as one of my greatest assets.
When I first met my wife, we immediately told each other our grief stories—and I had never told anyone my story right away because people get all weird on you. It was like we saw each other right away and that is pretty amazing if you think about it.
Maybe the best you can hope for is just to move on with your life always wishing things were different, whatever your issue is. There’s nothing wrong with that. As Billy Joel says, “Just surviving is a noble fight.” What I’m proposing instead is to take a second to ask, “What if?” What if rather than shutting out your pain and fear, you look it in the eyes and try to understand it? What if it becomes your strength? It’s not easy, but life isn’t easy. That’s why so many of us are so bad at it.
When grief hits you, it makes you feel out of control. But you’re not out of control. Grief is not your enemy. Grief is only the distance between who you are now and who you were before. That’s an impassable chasm no matter what anyone tells you. You can never go back to the other side because the person over there hasn’t had your experience. You can either stand there staring at the opposite cliff for the rest of your life or you can turn around and explore the new land you’ve come to.
Right there is the wonder in grief.
Wonder is about viewing the world in a different way. It’s seeing something you know is impossible and yet believing anyway. It’s imagining things are better than they are, even when through the lens of adulthood, we “know” they’re worse. It’s sometimes finding greater meaning in something that seemed mundane or even terrible at one time.
That’s what I want for me, for you – for everyone. I want us all just to look at things a little differently. I want us to know how to shake off the fog of adulthood and be FASCINATED by the wonder of everyday life. I want us to see hardship as part of the adventure of life.
To be honest I am terrible at that, but I’m working on it.
I think we have a shot. Grief can spur a person into spirals of despair or on to wondrous things.
And even if not, the whole sympathy thing does help with getting dates. Just ask my wife.