This past Monday marked nine months since Ara died. Children conceived at the time of her death are starting to push their way into the world. She has been gone long enough for whole human beings to form. This realization makes me feel simultaneously thankful and furious. I am thankful that life continues, that new life brings new hope and new opportunity for joy and growth, and even sorrow and pain. All of it. But I am furious that all of this new life is happening without her. It is a potent cocktail of grief and joy. And like orange punch at a church picnic, I consume it because it is the only thing available to me.
I am finding new ways to experience joy. It happens sometimes unexpectedly, but I am also deliberate about it. I go looking for it. Grief, however, is not something I need to go looking for. That sneaky creature is very skilled at finding me.
Grief is sitting at the end of bed most nights. It is heavy in my empty hand. It shows itself in a camera flash, a Christmas tree ornament, an especially puffy cloud. It is the squeeze of my intestines, the breath I can’t catch, the ache in my shoulder blade or crick in my neck. Grief rides with me in the back seat where a car seat used to be. It giggles from a nearby cart in the grocery store, runs by me on wobbly legs at the park, whimpers sleepily in the arms of some other mother.
Sometimes it is a subtle, covert operator, other times more like a clumsy, clamoring oaf. It hangs out in rooms waiting to greet me. It waits around corners clutching bits of memories to throw at me like confetti, which will stick to me for hours, or days. It knows the best songs to play in my head and the aromas to allow to waft through a room. It is strategic, putting a particular image on the screen at the moment I turn on the television.
Grief is a shapeshifter. It is as small as a tiny blue and white hair bow at the bottom of a drawer, as big as a wooden rocking horse on a shelf in the garage, or a swimming pool with one less swimmer, an airplane with one less passenger, a planet with one less inhabitant.
Grief is my tag-along, but I am looking out for Joy. Sometimes I find it in a moment when grief is about to catch me. I see it in close range and use all my strength to thrust myself forward , away from the grief and toward the joy.
But not always…
Sometimes the joy is just out of reach, and the grief pounces like a lion descending on its prey. In these moments, I thrash and kick against the pain of my loss and beg the universe to make it stop.
But not always…
Other times, I purposely hide from the joy, and stand right in the path of grief. I bring it to me and sit with it for a while. Because sometimes I want to sink into the sadness, to touch the nerve and feel the sharpness of my loss. I want to remember what it means to exist in a world that used to have an Arabella. I want to feel the fury of realizing that new lives are here now, lives that will be filled with all the things she will never have… I will never have.
The funny thing is that in these moments, grief feels less like a predator. It does not take advantage of my willingness to be devoured by it. It shows me kindness. It eases up, asks the joy to join us in a circle, strokes my head and says it won’t stay too long. And it doesn’t.