Why Bother With Grief?
June 27th will mark the 32nd anniversary of Elliott Emery Luikens’ death. He was our third born son, a stillbirth. He was full-term, nine pounds, twenty-two inches long and perfect. The only thing he lacked was the breath of life. A knot formed in his umbilical cord and tightened, cutting off his source of oxygen the day before I went into labor. Sadness surrounded his delivery and engulfed me for days and months afterward.
At first, I only wanted grief to go away. I avoided paying any attention to it and pretended it wasn’t there. That did not work. I guess grief is used to being ignored and it did not take my rejection personally. Instead, it continued to hang out with me, always nearby and within reach. I didn’t want to touch it. It took up so much space and it scared me. Occasionally, when I did acknowledge its presence, it felt weighty, heavy and constricting. I didn’t want to claim it as mine. I was afraid its heaviness would make me sink and I’d suffocate underneath the length and breadth of it. I was convinced it was a powerful force, something that I had to resist and fight against. Like a bad habit, it had to be conquered or tamed. It might consume me otherwise. Because of its persistent company though, I became intimately acquainted with it. Then I realized how wrong I’d been about grief.
It is better to pay attention to grief. Ignoring it does not make it go away. It is a natural companion that comes along with loss. Yes, heartache is weighty. The weightiness, though, has its purpose. It slows us down, and forces us to rest more. Loss requires release. Obligations and feats we normally shoulder have to be set down, and laid aside. We cannot function “normally” when we cross paths with something out of the ordinary, such as the death of a child or anybody’s death for that matter. Anguish is lighter when carried by itself. Unaccompanied by other worries, it is not quite so heavy.
Heartbreak is raw, and natural. It is not something that you can restrict or domesticate. At times, though, anger tried demanding my sadness to cease. Though anger tried to force a deadline with grief, I discovered that grief is not threatened by anger. Heartbreak is not one to ever kowtow to any such thing as wrath. Nothing can command sorrow to stop, not even our own indignation against it.
Grief does not require us to isolate ourselves and be alone with it. I knew I was not the first mother in history to bury a child, but it was my first time to bury one of my children. I sought out other mothers who, like me, lived even though their child didn’t. Grief is very personal and everyone’s path through the terrain is different. There are some similar landmarks that everyone sees along this journey though. Other women validated my guilt and confusion. They understood my incomplete sentences formulated from jumbled thoughts. They understood my sobs to be the language of utter agony. Their hugs were the handholds that kept me going as I navigated my way through the uncharted territory of my grief.
Grief and I became close. At one point, I almost apologized to it. I’d been harsh when it first showed up in my life. I’d tried to ignore it, hoping it would just go away. I was sorry I’d been like that. Just before it left me, it pointed to something it left behind, a little reminder of our time spent together, something to remind me of our relationship. It left me with some empathy.
Why bother with grief? It is worth spending time with grief because it leaves us with a bit of empathy.