Thursday, April 2, 2015

Grief, an "interior" decorator.

“I thought I wouldn’t live through it.  But you do. 
You learn to love the place somebody leaves behind for you.” 
Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer

I read this quote at a time I was not really ready to hear it but I was hopeful I would eventually understand this to be true.   At the time, my grief hadn't had a chance to rebuild the parts it took away and all I could see was sadness, but now I have come to think this is pretty spot on.

Today, April 2nd 2015, marks one entire year since my sweet friends passing.  There have been celebrations, and sadness and laughter and tangible loneliness.  And what I know a year in is this,  grief is different for each one of us and eventually, no matter how painful it is, you need to make peace with it.  

I used to think grief was an action or a place.  “She is grieving her lost son.”  “He is in grief since his wife passed away.”   I struggled with this because I thought grief was something to overcome or get out of.  I had heard of the five stages of grief and naively thought of it like a 12 step program.  I thought I would knowingly pass through these stages and suddenly feel better.   And I waited for them; anxious, unsettle and depressed.  When would it hit?  Would it consume me?  Would I be ok?  How could I prep for this to unfold?  How could I be ready?   And most importantly, how long will it take to feel normal again?
What I failed to realize is that by the time I started looking for grief, it had already found me. 

For me grief was not a place or an action or a set of stages to overcome.  While I was searching high and low for grief I was completely unaware it was already here.  Like an unwelcomed visitor grief had moved right into the place my friend once occupied and started its alterations.

The best way I can describe my grief is that it was like a part of me was being remodeled.  I look back now and wonder about the pain I felt in her final days.  What made no sense at the time seems to make perfect sense now.   In the few days before she passed, I spent as much time as I could with her.  I sat by her bedside desperate to capture the last few memories and surrounding her with friendship and love.  During this time there was also so much pain, an aching and deep physical pain that bore into my heart and soul like a drill boring into thick cement.  It was real.  I was completely aware of its presence at the time and I can still remember exactly what that felt like.  It was heavy and hard and empty and it physically ached in the center of my core.  I look back and know that was my grief.  Before she had even left this world grief was moving into the place she once lived.  Her life, our friendship, now fleeting moments of time that would never be new again callously pushed aside by grief.  Deep, heavy, dark, palpable, empty grief.   Yes, I’m sure that is exactly what it was, taking hold all set to re-decorate the place that she occupied for the past 17 years.  With its moving van, tape measure, new paint and sharp edges it settled in.  Measuring the space and making sure to fill every inch with itself.  Grief took up residence with no sign of moving out.   I could feel it changing who I was and I had no control, no say and no input.  All of a sudden tight, dark, suffocating feelings now existed in a place once filled with joy, happiness, light, friendship and love.   Joy and happiness and light never feel tight when they grow, we always have more space for that.  Funny how your body does that, makes so much room for love to expand, but grief, grief is a whole other entity. 
Grief has a job and a purpose and a lesson and it forces you to notice its presence, to acknowledge its existence within you.  And I believe grief lives in you forever, it changes, over time but I think it stays.   I have come to think of grief as an “interior” decorator.  In fact I think grief is an interior decorator with a very important job.  It’s a job that will run into roadblocks and difficulties along the way.   Things will seem like they are coming together just fine and then for no apparent reason there are setbacks.  And grief never tells you when the job will be finished because time is non-existent in this remodel.   I believe grief takes hold in the shape of a black hole that is constantly changing.  And I believe it remains in a state of disrepair until it’s time to rebuild.  It builds walls and knocks them down, it closes doors and opens others and it boards up windows and adds in skylights.  I think it keeps changing until it gets it right.  And eventually new rooms emerge in that vast open dark space and it starts to seem less vast.  And then grief repaints and hangs pictures of your loved one.  It plays cherished home movies, movies you forgot were ever recorded.  And as it re-decorates each room it gilds your sweet memories preserving them in this new beautiful space.  And although grief rebuilds some pretty amazing places, I believe it will always leave one room vacant, black and devoid of light.  This room can be scary at first and you can try to avoid going in there but sometimes the door swings open unintentionally and its dark emptiness can be all consuming.  This room will never change.  I used to be afraid of this room of these feelings but sometimes I have needed this room.  I have needed to sit here and think and remember and mourn and I have come to be grateful for this room to do just that. 

Grief for me was not something I was in, I needed to get over or something I did.  It was something that was born inside me that I needed to learn to live with.  And I needed to make peace with this grief.  To allow it to exist, to know that it serves a purpose and to let it build a sacred place that gently holds my sweet friend and provides me a place to mourn. 

So here I am an entire year in and I am grateful for sharing seventeen years of friendship with her.  There are moments and days that are difficult and I accept those for what they are, real feelings.   But I have come to love the place she left for me, a space filled with bright colors, a little leopard print and lots of gold.


  1. Wendy - this is such a beautiful metaphor for grief. You helped me to understand. I didn't know you'd lost your best friend last year when I was at WDB. I'm sorry for your loss. Sending you healing thoughts and friendship. xo

    1. Thank you Tammi. Yup, she was the best. Grief is such a multifaceted emotion and I think it helps to have an open dialogue as we all will experience it. WDB was a very raw place to be at such a time but it was also so good. I hope our paths will cross again, I am so bummed you will not be at the reunion. xo

    2. I really needed to read this today Wendy. It's been almost one year since my Dad's passing and I can relate so much to your powerful words. Much love to you always. Your beautiful soul shines through in your writing. Angie

  2. Thank you for your heartfelt comment Angie. I'm sorry you can relate but I'm pleased you found comfort in these words. I truly believe sharing our truth, happy, sad, painful and beautiful is important for both the writer and the reader. xo


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