Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders.
That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day.
My friend Lauren says that grieving is like carrying a heavy backpack. In the beginning, the weight is so great that you can barely stand up. The pack is uncomfortable, too full, hard to carry. It rubs you raw in places. You can’t ever put it down. Moving is a struggle, much like those early scenes in Wild when Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed attempts to stand up in the motel room wearing her fully laden backpack for the first time and to walk with it on during her first days on the Pacific Coast Trail.
Early on after your beloved dies, there are no moments during the day when you forget the weight is there. The reality of the loss is constant, throbbing, painful. Your heart hurts. Your body hurts. The grief is like a small child, demanding all of your attention and focus.
Nighttime brings no peace, no release. If anything, the weight is worse as the distractions of the day are gone. There is only the stillness, the quiet, the dark, the sounds of your partner quietly sleeping next to you. These are the hardest times, when it feels impossible to remember the happier days, the laughter, the fun, the beautiful life you had with your beloved.
As time goes on, the weight lessens imperceptibly day by day, week by week, month by month. Lauren and my friend Regina taught me to consider what I was carrying in my backpack and to discard the people, items and behaviors that prevented me from healing. I learned to lean into the people who love me, who get it, who aren’t afraid of the darkness or the grief I carry. I found new friends who understood life in the aftermath, kindred spirits who teach me how to “live on” as my friend Mary Jane’s husband Brian says.
The backpack is lighter now. Still there, ever present, but easier to carry. Not as heavy or as full. Packed differently, more balanced. And it’s able to hold the bittersweet — memories of the happy, joyful times I spent with my beloveds who are gone now. Moments I’ll never get back but am so grateful to have.
“I carry you with me into the world, into the smell of rain & the words that dance between people. And for me, it will always be this way, walking into the light, remembering being alive together.” Brian Andreas