Miscellaneous, Theology

The annoyingly non-linear process of grief

“It won’t always be like this.”

I’ve said that to myself, and heard it said to me many times before. But sometimes the recovery feels worse than the impact. It’s something I’ve found to be true in figure skating when learning a new trick that lands me square on my butt, and in life when coping with loss.

Grief like chronic illness

Grief has a way of feeling like a chronic illness, with inconvenient and socially awkward tears when you least expect them — “flare-ups,” if you will. And then there’s a “remission” period where everything seems like it’s getting better, but unanticipated triggers force you to take several steps back. Like a chronic illness, it’s a non-linear, at times vicious cycle.

Will you ever be “over it”? Maybe…maybe not. Or maybe you grow around it, a new normal replacing the old one.

“Good at grief”

Someone recently told me that I’m “good at grief.” It’s the third strangest compliment I’ve received this year – the first being from the ultrasound tech who told me I had “textbook ovaries.” Though I want a second opinion about that one, because she said it on the morning of my D&C, after waltzing into the room full of smiles and statements about how excited I must be to look at my baby, not knowing that baby had died weeks earlier. 

The awkward tension could be sliced with a knife when I explained the real reason for the ultrasound..to see if I had passed all of the placenta, which my body was reluctant to do naturally, and thus landed me in the ER a week earlier. I’m partly convinced that her comment was an attempt to keep me from reporting her after that foot-in-mouth incident (thankfully for her I’m not the reporting type, and I took no pleasure in making her feel worse when she was very clearly mortified). 

The other strange compliment was at an eye exam to update my glasses prescription, and the doctor said I had “beautiful corneas.” Who knew.

So what does it mean to be “good at grief”? I wasn’t always “good” at it; I used to cope by chasing it down with alcohol. Today, having been healed from that (praise be to God), grief feels harder because I’m not relying on a crutch to numb or escape it. 

Is one “good at grief” for putting on a brave face for the world? For having the determination not to fall into a trap of self-pity or victimhood? For being able to see God’s hand in it while looking up from the bottom of the pit?

Grief and joy intertwined

Perhaps being “good at grief” is simply knowing, even through ugly tears, that God has not forsaken you. Maybe it’s knowing, deep down, that there is nothing truly isolating or unique about your situation, even though it feels that way in the moment (miscarriage certainly fits that bill). Maybe it’s embracing the tension of hope in one hand and sadness in the other, and realizing that this is not a contradiction.

I remember the days of literal chronic illness flare-ups early in my marriage. I had a pelvic infection that would come and go with little warning, and I grieved that while also celebrating the joy of a spouse who understood and helped me through it. 

And then, most profoundly, there is the memory of making save-the-dates for my wedding the same week of drafting my father’s eulogy. Grief and joy have been two sides of the same coin for me for a long time.

It won’t always be like this

I write this at a time when every corporation is reminding us that fall is around the corner. It’s not actually “fall,” but Pumpkin Spice Season, my favorite one. 

It’s also the season we should have welcomed Hope Elizabeth into our family, so it’s understandably difficult this year. 

Eventually, this struggle bus will run out of gas and let me off, but that day is not today. The grief will not always feel this raw, and I will not always feel a knife in my heart around women whose daughters share my due date. 

I used to barely be able to hold back tears at the sight of fathers with young, curly-haired daughters. Today, I’m able to feel genuine joy for those little girls who get to grow up with fathers who love them. I’ll reach a similar place with all the baby girls due in late September/early October. 

Today is not that day. And that’s okay.

God’s hand in this will become evident, with time. Like most hard things, the only way out is through.


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