I’ve been awash in grief for nearly a month. Why is not the topic of this writing, and Why in some sense doesn’t really matter. Rather, along with feeling the grief, I’ve been considering the idea of learning how to grieve. It seems distinct from simply experiencing grief, and it’s an aspiration that seems simultaneously worthy and confounding.
What’s the difference between learning how to grieve, and simply experiencing grief ? The latter has felt like this: if I were drowning, say, it’s the equivalent of telling myself, “Sure, I’m drowning, but what can I do about it? Best to just pretend I’m not drowning when that’s possible, and notice it when it’s impossible to do otherwise.”
Several days ago, something shifted. Slowly. Cumulatively. I said to someone, “I’m having a hard time,” and they said, “Tell me more.” I said to someone else, “I’ve lost something,” and they asked, “What did you lose?” Little by little, the story of this grief came out, countless people hearing a paragraph here, a chapter there, just a sentence sometimes.
With each facet named, each piece invited or joined by another person, I’ve been learning how to grieve. This is how to grieve: by claiming it, naming it, letting it matter that we feel it, and offering it up. Doing this is initially a selfish act: it helps me to say out loud that it’s there. But it also, I believe, makes more of a world where a person’s grief matters. Today, it’s my grief. Tomorrow, it might be yours.
Yesterday, my 16-year-old son was hurting. Today, we took a walk, had some tea. “Tell me about it,” I said. And he did.
I told him I was sorry; I told him what I knew about hearts breaking, that a broken heart shows we’re brave enough to care, that sometimes we know we’re living a deep life by the depth of our grief, that the way to embrace living in this open-hearted, broken-hearted, joyful, grief-filled way is by leaning on each other. As I leaned on others. As my son then leaned on me.
That’s how it works.