Professor Grief

by Carolin Messier

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Grief doesn’t care if you’re tired of crying. It doesn’t care about your schedule or what you had planned. It doesn’t care whether you’ve changed the scenery, gone on a road trip, or flown across the sea. It doesn’t care if you’ve met someone new. It really doesn’t give a shit how you envisioned your life. Tomorrow. Next summer. Next year. When you’re retired. None of that matters to grief. It will smack you down, put you in your place and tell you you’re not done, “Hold your horses, you’re not going anywhere yet!” After a while things will be going along fine; it’s been days, maybe even a week or more since you’ve shed tears. You start to think you’re done, that you’ve made it through. Then BAM! As you return the seven shirts, three pairs of pants and a suit jacket to Costco that were in his closet and still had the tags on them, the tears come. Just when you thought it was safe to get things done, BAM! The dark grey, Italian wool jacket and trousers made a suit. You say to the cashier, “He might have bought this as a wedding suit,” and your words trail off to nothing but moist eyes and compassion. Because you’ve already begun to let go of that vision of your future: the vision of holding hands and exchanging vows, the vision of creating a home built from a million bricks of daily shared rituals, the vision of walking that dog together which you haven’t even rescued from the shelter yet, the vision of sailing to all the ports in Puget Sound, the vision of warming up together every February in Hawaii, and the vision of growing old together as you sit on a bench in Sunset Hill Park.

The fact that grief doesn’t care about your feelings doesn’t make it mean. It’s not malicious. It’s not your enemy. It’s a teacher, a mentor, a guide. Remember back in 8th grade when you didn’t like your social studies teacher and never did your homework just to spite him? Remember that? Did he get fired? No. Did he have his pay docked? No. Did he at least feel the sting of personal insult from your act of defiance? No. He gave you a “C”, the only one on your otherwise straight “A” report card with the comment that “the student is capable of much better work if she would complete all of the assignments”. No skin off his nose. He probably taught for years after that, until he was eligible for retirement. You’re the one who missed out. You’re the one who lost that all-night game of Trivial Pursuit freshman year of college because all you could remember about Lewis and Clark were their names. You never did finish that report on their expedition. Even though you said you didn’t care, you’re the one who felt the shame of that “C” on your report card. The shame of not doing the best you could. The shame of letting someone else inspire the worst in you. The shame of not being strong enough to face what was uncomfortable and take care of yourself in spite of that discomfort.

I dislike grief even more than I disliked my 8th grade teacher. But I’ve learned some things since junior high, and I’ve decided not to fight it, not to be that defiant student that thinks she knows more than the teacher and won’t shut up and listen. I recognize that grief knows more about some things than I do. It has things to teach me, if I let it. If I listen and do my homework, the lessons may even sink in. A dear friend whom I’ve gotten to know through my grief support group says that he wants to get an “A” in grief. He’s sitting in the front row, attending every lecture, taking notes, and reading all the extra credit books on the subject. I admire his commitment as a student and his courage to face the pain and discomfort. It’s inspiring. I may not get an “A” in grief, and that’s ok, but I’ll have at least a Bachelor’s Degree from the Universe-ity of Life eventually. I’m only in my second semester though, just a freshman. I’ve got a long way to go, but even the entry level courses are valuable.

Here’s what I’ve learned from Grief so far:

It won’t kill me.

After having lost what was most precious to me, I have nothing left to lose.

Being cracked open is an opportunity; the cracks are what let the light in.

We are all broken. And that’s absolutely beautiful. It’s our humanity.

We share more things in common than we have differences.

Grief has allowed me to connect with people I never imagined knowing.

We give people a gift when we give them an opportunity to be kind to us.

People are capable of incredible kindness.

Animals give comfort selflessly.

With each loss there are many boxes of grief to open.

Not everyone is capable of accompanying me through my grief.

My restaurant staff is more amazing and supportive than I ever imagined!

Sleep is precious and should never be taken for granted.

Small worries no longer matter.

I’ve lived a good life, no regrets.

Take even more chances, especially emotionally.

Figure out what I need and ask for it.

Speak my truth.

Love is eternal.

Grief is heart wrenching, soul crushing, life devastating and physically painful. But I haven’t even tried to avoid it. I’m pushing through it, I embrace it, explore it, feel it and have even wrapped myself in it because I’ve also learned that grief is a part of love. And why would I want to avoid any part of love?