Traversing the Shadowy Lands of Grief

I have spent months in a shadowy land between life and death, Here and There. Walking between worlds. I have come to believe that those who grieve are only partly in this world for a while. A part of them continually longing for their loved one on the other side. We are not sure how to live in a world without them or even if we really want to. We see eternity and the other side differently now, and going there looks so much better than before. As most of us get older we start having to say more goodbyes. As we grieve we exist only half alive, in a fog, surviving until we find the will to be fully present in this life again.

I understand grief more fully now. Nothing in life could have prepared me for losing my mother. Not my counseling degree, not the devastating loss of my sweet baby I never got to meet face-to-face, and not the ten long years of slowly saying goodbye to my mother while watching her diminish, and not the pain of the first time she didn’t know me anymore. I see clearly now why there were grief observances throughout history for those who mourned. We live in such a hurried culture that wants everything to be glossed over and things to move as quickly as possible. Grief cannot be hurried, but mourners are expected to behave as though it can. People want you to move on and return to normal as soon as possible. We, as a society, are not comfortable with grief. Back in history there was a mourning period that was taken seriously. People dressed differently and they behaved as mourners. They were treated gently and people recognized that those who grieve really do only have one foot in this world. I see the purpose and the value in this way of thinking. People were given time and space to move through their journey of grief.

It has been two years now since my mother’s death. It’s hard to believe. I feel that nearly the entire last two years I was in a deep dark pit. I couldn’t even stand up straight. My darkest time was this past winter and as we moved closer to spring I began emerging from that strange half-life as a moth drawn to the light. I can see clearly again. I can breathe again. I am able to absorb beauty that I thought was lost to me, and I can once again fall asleep with a smile on my face. I finally, at times, feel something close to that sweet wild joy of old. I am more calm. Almost as if I have faced one of my deepest fears and, having come through the other side, it has made me braver, stronger. There is peace. I am awake, and have found myself after being lost for so long. I am open, isolated no longer, and I can feel a true smile on my face coming from deep within.

The grief journey is such a strange, unworldly journey that we must navigate, desperately clinging to our Maker as we try and make it through to the other side. No one can fully understand the depths and complexities of grief until they journey through it themselves. As I’ve emerged the change in me is remarkable. For two years I have not been myself. There are newer friends in my life that I have wished could know the girl I used to be. I’ve been walking around euphoric experiencing life again … remembering what it is like to be me. I was dead, half in shadow, and my family only had scraps of me for a time.

Who’s to say what finally brought me back? It’s as if a perfect, elegant key was slipped into a lock. Some might say, ‘Well she was in physical pain and saw a chiropractor,’ or ‘Good for her, she finally started using essential oils!’ Was it the thousands of guttural prayers I breathed, so lacking in eloquence that all I could muster was ‘Help me, please, help me,’ or was it just the natural grief journey that mourners must take until they are able to stand and choose this world again? In the end, we who grieve must make a choice to be with the Living – with those we have left here.

Though I now have both my feet planted firmly and joyfully in the land of the living, the longing and loss remain. Sometimes I wear her perfume. The one that was released the year of my birth – her favorite. I wear it like a warm blanket, I spray it on and become wrapped in a soft embrace. Closing my eyes, I’m once again a little girl with my head buried in Mama’s skirt, her sweet, loving arms around me. I wear my bracelet with her handwriting etched on it, declaring the love she can no longer speak to me. I listen to the record she made long before I was born. Her beautiful voice brings her near to me, and I wait for the day our worlds unite.

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