We are all broken … that’s how the light gets in. Ernest Hemingway
We wear our grief like a mask, afraid of letting our guard down for fear of splintering into a million pieces. All the while sending unspoken pleas that the other person won’t ask ..
How are you? “I’m fine.” “Doing okay.” “Holding my own.” “Trying to stay busy.”
How many children do you have? Two (but it’s complicated ..) …
Is your mom still doing genealogy research? painting? going to exercise class? No, not so much …
For all that I wanted my pain to be seen, in the early days after Jimmy and my mom died, I worked hard to shield it from view, deflecting questions, parrying topics of conversation, changing the subject. I hadn’t yet learned that almost all of us have lost something or someone irreplaceable. And that there’s connection and comfort to be found by sharing our brokenness.
When I asked Regina how I would survive Jimmy’s death, she didn’t sugarcoat how hard the journey is … to live on without your beloved oldest child … to find meaning in what and who remain. And yet she offered hope and a path forward, saying that building a life in the aftermath was possible and more importantly, that she would be there to sit in the dark with me until the light returned.
Our greatest work as humans may be to help those we love find and remember their wholeness. To hold the light when theirs is glimmering dimly or out altogether. To remind them that there is more life to be lived, more connection to be found, more joy to experience.
One of the biggest surprises about this life in the aftermath is realizing that those who have experienced profound loss, those who know how fragile life is, those who understand that what we love most can be taken from us in a moment are often those best equipped and most willing to help. When you find yourself in the scary world of grief and loss, it helps if your guides know the lay of the land. How to weather the valleys. How to climb the mountains. When to surrender and just seek shelter from the storm. How to find higher ground. How to make sure you are never alone. How to see what you can’t see .. that the light is still there, that there’s more life to live, that you can and will find a way out of the darkness.
After Jimmy died, I didn’t think I had the strength to be the light for anyone else … until Francie called to say that Kenzie was dying. In an instant, our roles reversed. Her unexpected, incomprehensible loss forced me out of my own head and back into the cold, cruel world. I discovered a strength that I thought was lost and a deep desire to do what she’d done for me — to witness her pain and help her believe that she could go on without her girl.
There is no light without darkness. No wholeness without acceptance. But it’s hard to remember when you’re feeling broken. Often what you need most is another grief traveler who is willing to embrace you, acknowledge all that you have lost and wait with you until the light returns.