A Hole So Big
Many years ago, I led my first grief support group meeting at our local hospice. Friends warned me to guard my heart and wondered if I, after just completing treatment for breast cancer, should be volunteering for a position that required me to be around grieving people. I listened, wondered for a moment if they were right, and then left my house for the meeting. The minute I stepped into the room, I knew that was where I was supposed to be, entering into pain, grief and loss with people I had never met before.
As fate would have it, only two people showed up for our meeting. One was a mom who had suddenly lost her young adult daughter to an undetected genetic heart condition. The other was her daughter’s spouse. His grief was deep, his hopelessness palpable, and his only desire was to go to bed at night and never wake up again. I will not forget when he looked over at me with empty eyes and asked, “How can someone so small leave a hole so big?”
That is the nature of grief. It’s a full-body physical kind of thing. It comes in waves and often at unexpected times. There is no timeline. There is no “correct” way to grieve. And anyone who tells you it will be better in a year, or after you celebrate the “first” holidays without them, has never lost a loved one or had to grieve deeply.
Grief. It is your body’s natural response to loss. Just as the body knows how to give birth, how to breathe, and how to die, it knows how to grieve. But—we must let it happen. Grief manifests itself in strange places in your body. It hurts. It is often lonely.
Grief. It’s not an emotion that is best put in a box and saved to pull out one day when we are ready to deal with it. No, grief is not like that. We may be able to stop ourselves from crying, or put on a happy face for a while, but the grief is still there in that empty hole in our heart. We grieve about the past because of the memories we cherish. Sometimes we even grieve about circumstances or memories that were not so pleasant. We grieve about today because we miss the ordinary moments with the person who has died. We grieve about tomorrow because we will not share that day with the one we loved. All of the things that were going to be are now gone. We must start anew. And we don’t want to.
Grief can feel dark and relentless. It’s like anger, hate, pain or jealousy. It’s an emotion that we do not welcome. But if we do not welcome it, then we are not allowing ourselves to feel. If we do not feel, we cannot heal. When we are ready, we must honor the pain and let grief in. We must welcome it as a visitor, coming to remind us of the beauty and fullness we shared.
You grieve for only one reason, and without it, life would be meaningless.
You grieve because you love.
Originally published in the INELDA.org Newsletter (Dec. 2019)