Grief is a funny thing. Except it isn’t.

Scrapbook Page - Bridget
Scrapbook Page – Bridget (Photo credit: meglet127)

You can go for days, weeks, months with no episodes. You are back to life as usual, feeling like you did the hard work to adjust to your new normal. Usually this new normal is a rearranged normal, a normal that for a time at least, is meant to cover a gaping hole in your life. A deceased mother or father. A failed marriage, perhaps.

And then, suddenly, usually in a very inconvenient and unexpected place, grief washes over you as a wave.  Almost a literal wave, because you’re knocked off guard and it’s just there. Over you, under you, holding you down. You have to remind yourself to breathe.

It sounds a bit melodramatic, but I think if you’re a person who feels deeply (and even if you’re not), chances are grief strikes in similar fashion. It’s one of the great equalizers. CEOs and factory workers may live in different worlds but grief shows no socioeconomic bias. It’s a punch in the gut regardless.

For me, taking my son to physical therapy at a rehabilitation facility has opened up new chords of grief. From a well I thought had dried up.

I was in the bathroom, of all places, washing my hands, when it hit me. The first wave. It was déjà vu in the strongest sense of the word. The restroom was identical, really, to the one in the rehabilitation facility in which my father spent his last weeks. And it seemed I was back there, a little less than a year ago, washing my hands. I felt again the desperation of knowing it was our last Father’s Day together. The awful and yet comforting juxtaposition of the ordinary with my father’s impending journey into a realm I am not yet allowed to enter—the afterlife.

We had just finished dinner. My father, instead of dining in his room, agreed to eat in the dining room with the other patients. My sons and I were joining him. We sat with a man, Walter, who was eating solid food for the first time in over six months. We applauded his feat, being able to swallow again, and I made polite conversation. The woman at the table behind us kept yelling out random items, sharing with us that she was “breaking out of here” and we were to follow her. She also couldn’t see very well and seemed to think I was a little girl. My dad and I giggled about it back in his room, able to hold our laughter in just long enough that she wouldn’t hear it.

My father ate like a champ, relishing every last bit and asking for a second dessert. I was so grateful because his appetite had failed him in recent days. But I was sad that this was now my father’s dinner table. And that I was usually hundreds of miles away from it, unable to help make it a little sunnier for him.

The next morning, we went to Mass in the chapel—my father, aunt, sister, two sons and I. I sat, tears streaming down my face, for most of the service. I knew I’d not be at Mass again with my dad. I knew how many masses we’d sat through together as I grew up—and this seemed an unfair end to the tradition. Afterward, more family members started to visit to give him his presents and spend time together. I, unfortunately, had to leave to get back home.

And that was it. I was back in the rehab facility where my son was healing a torn hamstring. The memory had taken only seconds, but I felt like I had relived a day in those seconds.

The next visit for my son’s physical therapy, we were about to get on the elevator when we passed a library and sitting area. And again, I was back in time. But this time, I was a young girl running through the halls of the hospital my mother helped to run. When she headed up the school of nursing, there were days I needed to be at work with her after school because she had some deadline to meet.

I usually drove her secretary crazy, spinning in her chair and playing with the intercom/buzzer between their offices. When my mother tired of me doing that, she’d tell me to go amuse myself quietly. The school had a sitting room/library of sorts. They used to hold teas and other functions there. I’d play in the room, pretending to be the grand dame of some country estate, sipping my tea and reading my book. It was very much like the library my sons and I had just passed on our way to the elevator.

And again, that was it. I was back in the present after only a few seconds—but felt like I had relived many afternoons.

The grief comes in the déjà vu. You literally feel you’re back in time. You smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the feelings. And it taunts you. Because you can’t really go back. And you don’t think you’d really want to. But how did this flesh and blood being who loved you from the moment you were born escape solely into memory? To not hear the voice, smell their scent, feel their hand holding yours—it feels cruel. Harsh.

You realize the new normal will probably always include moments such as these. They are a blessing as well as a curse, I think. And yet, I think a worse fate would be to not be able to relive these moments. To forget so much that going back in time is not an option, even if an unintentional one.

A dear friend that passed away years ago said to me, “Kay, all along I thought my life would really begin when I found the right guy. When my screenplay got published. And now I look back and think, “Oh my God. That WAS my life.” She had terminal breast cancer and only a few months to live.

Yes, grief is a funny thing. A reminder that the memories we’ll want to look back and cherish are NOW. That ordinary family dinner. A Sunday service with your loved ones in the pews next to you. Your child in your office, driving you crazy. It’s now, folks. Make it count. Or don’t. But my takeaway is that it matters. Every moment matters. Even the dull and ugly.

These are the moments grief will bring back. And the alternative is to leave grief empty-handed. But that leaves you empty-handed. I’ll take grief any day.

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122 Comments Add yours

  1. Wonderful post. I related to it very much.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I lost my mother over 10 years ago but there are times, in just a moment, everything comes flooding back. So true. I loved your point that living is NOW not sometime later in the future.

    I did a real life change about a year ago when I felt life was moving way too fast and I was missing moments with my children and husband…too busy with unimportant things, just filling the plate. I am learning to slow down and take in moments. I don’t usually link back to my own blog but I actually just wrote about that yesterday: http://trippingovertypeset.com/2013/07/10/fireflies-and-stars-above/

    Thank you again, this was beautiful writing. Thank you!

    1. candidkay says:

      I can relate to the life change. Slowing down is not easy because the world does not support it usually. But so essential or we look back and realize we were just existing, not really living . . .

  3. quickstepp says:

    Reblogged this on Quick Stepp: music, memories, food, fitness and randomness. and commented:
    I don’t reblog often, but this is such a solid post. It rang true on so many levels.
    I’ve been lucky enough to escape dealing with the loss of someone incredibly close (parent, sibling, partner), but loss hurts on every level. And a song, a smell, a place can take you right back in a split second.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you so much for the reblog! I’m glad my words hit home . . .

  4. quickstepp says:

    What a wonderful post. You hit on some very true points and I loved the story. It’s amazing that you can go years without a break and then a smell or a sound or a song can cause a huge cry.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. jennyflem says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your post gave me chills and speaks to my heart.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m glad my words resonated with you. That’s why I write.

  6. twclark66 says:

    Yes, I totally identify with the waves coming. For lack of a better analogy, my grief comes in sets. Some sets are large and some are small and more spread out. As memories and silence collide I am reminded of the temporary moments that sum up our lives. It does make me much more thankful for the beautiful moments.

  7. southernwomanstheory says:

    My family just laid to rest my grandma last weekend and I’ve been waiting on the grief to hit me. I’ve had a few flashbacks of times together but have been able to shake completely breaking down. I wanted to be strong for my mom and plus it always rings in the back of my head grandma telling us she didn’t want nobody crying and making a fuss at her funeral (that was hard but I did it). I want a way to process how I feel and honor her at the same time. I think the suggestion of writing is a good one. I plan to write a blog post in memory of her just like I did with my other grandmother. Thanks for a moving post.

    1. candidkay says:

      I hope writing helps you. I think when still in survival mode–just trying to keep head above water–that becomes a wall to keep grief at bay. I find it’s quiet moments when I’m surprised at how much it still hurts. So sorry about your grandmother. I hope she lived a long and happy life.

      1. southernwomanstheory says:

        Thanks for responding. She did….four days short of her 95th birthday!

  8. Alex Hoofie says:

    I love the way you described reliving an entire day in mere seconds. That’s exactly how it feels to me sometimes. I wish I could bring myself to write publicly about my parent’s deaths, but I can’t yet. I think this post brought me a little closer to being able to, though.

    1. candidkay says:

      I hope you can. I think it helps us all to hear we’re not alone.

  9. tinapumfrey says:

    Beautifully written. It’s what I needed to read today. May God continue to bless you, on the good days and the tough ones.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m so glad my words helped. It’s why I write. Wishing you peaceful moments today.

  10. I have lost a child, then my husband, and now my father. I am familiar with grief and how it comes over you even years afterward. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Time does not lessen the pain, but it can strengthen you for the next round. God be with you.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m so sorry for your losses. I hope time has eased your pain.

      1. God Bless Tammy Rizzo. She has gone through a lot. I know all of us here have lost someone, but to have lost 3 people, including a child, a husband and a father is too much. Laurie at hibernationnow.wordpress.com

      2. Thank you. Yes, it has, though Dad’s passing is still very fresh. Although I wish I’d had more time with them all, I’m grateful for the time I did have.

  11. Very true and beautifully expressed. Even more perversely sometimes it manifests in dreams. I’ve had my father returned to me in a dream before – his death was all a misunderstanding. In the dream a truly felt the relief and had time to reshuffle the vision of my future – how I would have to save money to travel home more often. When I woke up and realised none of it was real, grief descended like an avalanche, even though it was some years since his passing. There were tears on my face from before I’d even opened my eyes though so perhaps even in sleep some part of me recognised the lie.

    1. candidkay says:

      So hard when grief hits us in sleep, I agree. After my mother died, even while she was dying–I would wake up with tears already running down my face. Defenses down, it was as if the depth of my grief couldn’t be fully experienced while awake. Cruel dream for you to have but I hope your memories of your dad are happier.

  12. Psy says:

    I think you have captured the very essence of grief to be honest – it has no boundaries and cares nothing for ceremony or situation. It often hits you when you least expect it but it’s also very valuable because without expressing it, you are likely to end up being consumed.

    Personally I find writing things down really helps, such as a poem or a letter to those no longer here. I recently wrote a poem on my blog for our little girl who was stillborn prematurely at 5 and half months 13 years ago – that day still lives with me and it’s the most random things that can trigger memories as you say.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Kristine and I hope your writing brings help to others as I think it should.

    1. candidkay says:

      So beautifully put–“has no boundaries and cares nothing for ceremony or situation.” And I agree, better to express it than be consumed. I’m so sorry about your little girl–I’m sure that is something that stays with you forever. I’ve been softened and toughened up at the same time.

  13. Cindy says:

    The grief ninja has a way of worming its way into our thoughts when least expected. Two steps forward and sometimes three steps backwards. Such is the circle of life! Losing my son has taught me to re-evaluate every single day as a gift. Hugs to you and thank you for sharing, as grief is something that every single one of us will encounter during our brief stay on earth.

    1. candidkay says:

      An apt way to put it. I’m so sorry you lost your son–I can’t even imagine. And the fact that you were able to glean any life learnings out of that–amazing. So many get stuck at bitter.

  14. jlsm697 says:

    I’m dealing with it now, though my Mom is alive. It’s with me every day. Lovely blog.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you. We so often overlook the grieving others go through as the begin to lose a parent even though they’re physically still here. Sometimes that is the harder side of it. Wishing you moments of peace and acceptance.

  15. lalarukh1 says:

    lovely writing….do check mine too….at….foodpeopleloveandstuff.wordpress.com

  16. Conna Bond says:

    Can so relate…

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