Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Nature of Grief

I thought I was ready. This year, the fourth one marking my brother's death, I thought I had this whole Grief thing sussed out.



Grief is stealthy. He has lurked around the corners of my heart for so long, I suppose I imagined he might stay there, in the shadows of my memories. Instead, Grief has been stalking me, waiting for the exact right wrong moment to leap out, grab me by the throat and shove me to my knees, right there in hallway outside the bathroom.

Sometimes, Grief doesn't even wait for me to stumble into the room and shut out the rest of my world, for just one. blessed. moment. He just swoops in from nowhere  and if I'm not fast enough, he'll pull me into his strangely seductive embrace before I've even taken my next breath.

That's how Grief rolls. Grief sucks ass. Grief colours the edges of every happy moment, whether I realize it then or later, remembering.

Grief is like that relative who comes to every family event, invited or not, and who sits so quietly in the corner you forget he's there, until you go to pour a drink and realize he's been helping himself and now your favourite beverage is all but gone.

Oddly, I've discovered that I  can't even get really, really mad at Grief, not like I did a few years ago - PHEW, that was unexpected and uncomfortable for everyone -  because that's just his nature and he's been a part of things for so long, it would actually be weird if he stopped showing up.

I have managed to  mostly ignore Grief this year, instead of letting him simply take over at the beginning of January.

This year, I tried to stand up to Grief. I got all huffy and puffy and wagged my finger in his face: "You know what, Grief? I have things to do and people to love and I refuse to let you drag me through your mire. I have a LIFE to live here, Grief and it's a busy one. I'd appreciate a little bit of breathing room this year, if you don't mind."

Photo courtesy of

For awhile there, it seemed that Grief was listening. I marvelled at my sense of well-being, took occasional stock of my heart, found it strong and full - nary a glimpse of Grief.

Around the end of January though, I began to fret. Grief would be here soon and I needed to be ready, needed to get my house and my heart in order. So, I called him out, late one night. (It's the best time to let Grief in, he's usually eager to visit once the children are sleeping and it's dark and I'm feeling sentimental.)

I decided on a direct, no-nonsense approach: " Listen Grief, I know I'll be seeing you in February - do you know yet whether you're arriving early or will you show up on the 10th exactly?"

Grief didn't answer, which I decided was a good thing. Grief, I thought, was allowing me to set the terms for our relationship, letting me form the boundaries to guard my own heart and giving me a chance to start the new year unbent, whole, not hollow.

And I suppose, in his way, he DID allow me to move through the first 9 days of the shortest month without being too clingy. Oh sure, he accompanied me on a few more car rides than I'd prefer, but he only stuck around through the playing of the songs that remind me of Andrew and I LOVE those songs, so I didn't mind so much.

And he's popped up in unexpected places, too: My parents pinned a photo-button of Uncle Andrew playing hocked onto Luke's lunch pack and though surprised, I was delighted to see it.  For a moment Nostalgia swirled about as I let my fingers move across that button, remarkinghow MUCH Luke reminds me of Andrew, before Grief swooped in stomped out all the happy.


Grief crept into my heart's house yesterday morning. Early, while I slept, defenseless and pliant.  I felt him whisper through my dreams but chased him off - I thought - with a celebration for  two of my favourite mamas, carrying boys in their bellies and dreams in their eyes.

 Ignored Grief peering round the corner as I dressed for a night out with my Across-The-Road-Neighbours and then pretty much slammed the door on Grief's face as we crossed the threshold of a home filled with laughter and friendship and delicious beverages...

Grief - that fucker - snagged me as I wrapped a warm and sleepy Luke in a blanket for the walk across the road to his own waiting bed. I leaned in to kiss his flushed cheek and was struck -  again - by his eerie resemblance to Andrew and suddenly, like a freight train, Grief thundered in.

In fact, Grief draped himself so heavily on my heart, I had to sit on the stairs awhile, cradling my sleeping son, just so I could breath. Grief followed me into sleep, taunting, dancing through my dreams and filling my throat with lumps so huge I could barely swallow.

When I awoke this morning, Grief waved from across the room, eager to greet the day: "It's February 10th! Here I am, despite your best efforts to avoid me. You didn't really think I'd let this date pass without a visit, did you?"


I hate today.

I miss my brother.


  1. Sister, let me tell you. Grief is a bastard. I know. But here's the thing: I love you. You are real and honest and we'll get through it together, drunk if we have to but together.

    1. Thank you, my friend. Grief IS a bastard - I know he stalks you, too. Drunk is good, but today, I will settle for tea and chats and your love.

  2. Sending you love and hugs. I know that Grief cannot (and perhaps should not) be silenced, but maybe, just maybe, Grief's voice can be made a little softer. Maybe. Maybe?

  3. Thank you for loving me, even from afar. Grief - bless him - has been quieter this year. Well, until today. Was hoping that writing about him might lessen his grip, especially today. So far it's not working, but I am hopeful.

    And grateful for your friendship, waiting always.

  4. Oh Liz, I wish I could give you a hug today. I, too, know what a bastard Grief is. He lurks around all my happy moments, and shows up when I really don't want him to. And I too hope his voice grows quieter as the years pass. You are today, as always, and if you need a hug and a shoulder to cry on, I'm not too far away.

    1. Thank you, Jenn. Your friendship means a great deal to me and while I am sad that Grief visits your life too, I am made lighter for knowing that I am not alone in this.


  5. I've sat here trying to compose a response and I've got nothing. Grief and its cousin Anger are still strong when I think of my G-pa.

    Just.. ((HUGS)), Liz. Your words were perfect.

    1. Thank you for the hugs, Kelly. They are warmly welcomed every day, but moreso, today.


  6. Grief is a double sided monster. It rips your soul apart with loss and anger. It also reminds you that you love your brother still. Fight the mean grief with times of laughter shared and hugs given and taken. Make grief your slave, when he shows, bring in the good memories.

    1. Thanks Renee - it is not often, anymore, that Grief grabs me the way he has today. Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow I will breath. Tomorrow, the good memories will be back, but, I just miss my brother.

  7. Liz, you were so very blessed to have a relationship like this with your brother. My brother and i speak twice a year. On birthdays. After our parents have told us we HAVE to call each other. I assume they tell him he has to do the same for me. I don't know why we don't talk, but we don't.

    I have my theories.

    But the bottom line is, you had this awesome brother. And you loved him. What a blessing. Truly. ANd the fact that your Reds remind you of him? That IS him, coming back in whispers to say: Don't forget about me, sis. I don't think we are supposed to forget about people we love. I really don't. It's all the other poppie heads that we should forget.

    So yes, Grief is rough.

    But if you allow it in, you will remember your brother -- & all the good times. Make Grief work for you. If you make Grief your best friend, then your brother will always live with you. He'll always be close.

    1. Sweet friend. Andrew and I were close...until we weren't and then we were like you and your brother and spoke only when asked to do so by our long-suffering parents.

      This pattern went on for years, until I married Mark and Andrew needed a place to be and we had an extra room. Those three years of him with us were the best ever and I am, especially now, so grateful for them.

      I urge you to reach out to your brother - connect, even if it's just a phone call once a month. It will feel awkward and unnatural...until it doesn't.

      That said, I think it's amazing that Luke reminds me so much of Andrew, because we are adopted and have no blood ties. That God...He's so wise and kind of funny.

      I adore you for popping over, Renee! Thank you!

  8. Enormous hugs to you Liz.

    I'm with the Renees on this one, grief to me is both terrible and useful.

    I've never been a bury your head in the sand kind of person....and to be honest, I often have a harder time remembering the good moments with my mom than the things that make my stomach tighten up in knots. I curse those moments.

    Acknowledgement seems to be what grief is mostly looking for. It hurts that you don't have your brother and it's not going to ever stop hurting. And yet, revisiting it is both terrible and powerful. I've learned to lean into the curve...because to be whole we have to incorporate everything in our lives, especially the things that hurt us. The cost of not doing so is even higher.

    1. Thank you, sweet Joe for those hugs.

      I agree that grief serves a purpose - a healthy, valuable one, too. Acknowledgement took me a long, long time to ACTUALLY know that he wasn't coming back, which I realize sounds crazy, but there it is.

      And it doesn't stop, this missing him. But some days are easier than others and I've come to realize that I wasn't really avoiding Grief all this time...I was just saving up for February 10th.

      I don't know if that's wise or not, but I feel more like myself today and less like I'm drowning in unshed tears. On Sunday, I "leaned into the curve" as you put it and while it did not feel good, it felt right.

      I'm sorry that you know grief, sweet man. I have a special yen for you, because my father's name is Joe and he is probably the best man I've ever known.