Leaving a doctor’s appointment last week, I scurried to my car in flip flops and huddled under a light jacket in attempt to dodge the puddles and raindrops that were quickly forming. Just an hour prior it had only been drizzling, so I was not prepared for the sudden and unexpected downpour. Yet somehow I was still tolerant of it. I realized, Marylanders are actually quite used to this wavering climate. It could be 20 degrees and snowing in December, and the next day sunny and 60. It could be 100+ for several weeks straight in the summer, then suddenly feel like fall. Yet we are ready! We complain, certainly. But we are typically prepared for a variety of elements on any given day (except NEVER drive here in the snow. We are not ready!).
This got me thinking… Even though erratic weather is neither pleasant nor convenient, we accept it. We groan about the bad weather, we enjoy the good weather, and we grab our coats and galoshes when things go haywire. Then we go about our lives continuing to expect a climate that is constantly changing. What if we applied the same mentality to grief?
In the realm of grief, especially as it relates to infant loss, we talk so much about weathering THE storm. But losing a child is not a single storm. Life doesn’t just return to normal once the storm blows over and the sun (or rainbow) appears. Instead, we continue to experience grief in the same way we experience the weather. We continue to endure its inconsistencies, we are confronted by new and unexpected conditions, and we feel it in varying degrees. Following that logic, it makes perfect sense to characterize grief in the same way we do the weather:
Forecasted and Unexpected: Some days, I can see grief rolling in like distant storm clouds. Similar to the weatherman, I’ve even begun to predict patterns. But there are also times that I over-predict and over-prepare and then nothing really happens. Or in other cases, I’m not ready at all and a deluge of grief leaves me exposed, standing in a sudden downpour with no umbrella or raincoat.
Familiar and Unfamiliar: Grief can feel as familiar as a sunny day, a drizzling rain or a steady wind – elements I know how to dress for, navigate and even function in. But it can also feel so unfamiliar that I become completely lost or disoriented, as if an earthquake came along and sent me stumbling out of control. The unfamiliarity leaves me unsure of how to react and how to regain balance. Then feeling totally inapt, I either resist it or I take cover from it because I am simply not ready to take it on.
Mild and Severe: Light snow, patchy fog, humidity, cloud cover, sleet… these are all mild forms of weather. Despite being unpleasant, these conditions post little threat, leave behind little damage, and don’t typically last long. As a result, they are tolerable and easy to manage.
But blizzards, earthquakes and tornadoes belong in another category – one that requires effort on a very different scale. If forewarned, for example, I’d do all I could to prep. I’d call friends and family to commiserate and potentially brace for the impact. I’d watch the news and listen to advice on how to endure it. I’d go out and buy all of the essentials. I’d also likely fall apart when despite those efforts, I couldn’t protect myself from the inevitable destruction. That’s grief! It can be a day or two of tolerating mild emotions and triggers. Or it can be several weeks of taking hits, just trying to survive, and then picking up the pieces with the help of friends and family.
There are so many other analogies I could use here. Grief can be isolated or vast. It can be consistent or inconsistent. It can include a mix of elements. It can really be X but “feel like” Y. You get the gist.
But why does it benefit us to think of grief in this way? Because in doing so, we stop rejecting grief and we start responding to it just as we do the weather:
We accept it as part of everyday life, something we ALL face. We normalize it, we allow ourselves to discuss it and we support one another through it. We anticipate all elements, good and bad. We don’t set ourselves back by ignoring the warning signs of bad weather and only focusing on feel-good forecasts.
We keep an eye on it, knowing that it is continuous, persistent and ever-changing. We revel in the sunshine but we aren’t sent reeling every time the climate changes. We learn to check in frequently and grab whatever gear is best suited in a given climate. Then we go on about our daily lives expecting that each day with grief might look and feel different.
We become familiar with it and confident in it. We start tracking its patterns. We learn its trends. We become more comfortable with the ebbs and flows. We find that overall, the varying elements of grief become more tolerable. We find that even when we are inevitably left exposed, we are able to learn more about ourselves and become better skilled at coping.
After losing Everett, I have slipped and stumbled and endured a great deal trying to navigate grief. I’m told that’s quite common initially, but nonetheless it has left me feeling vulnerable, broken, ill-equipped and unsettled at times. What initially hindered me most, was not realizing (or accepting) that it does not go away. Nothing can entirely protect me from the pain or prevent disaster from striking again. Grief and the harsh realities of loss are here to stay and are a very normal part of life.
Over time I have learned to live with grief much like I live with this crazy Maryland weather. It has become easier to create a new life with grief being an everyday influencer. I now have more gear to guard me. I have become more tolerant of the less desirable conditions. And when something like a natural disaster strikes, I’m better at bracing for it, responding to it and relying on others (like this community) to help pull me through. It is my hope that this analogy helps us all to think beyond the storm and to begin viewing grief as normal, persistent, and ever-changing. In doing so, we can better cope and heal together following the unfortunate tragedies we have faced.
with lovE, Skyler