Clare Saumell VanderWeele

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The Mythical Timeline of Grief

My best friend is getting married this week. I frequently wonder how I ever got so lucky to know her like I do. I’ve known her more than half my life, and she’s the sister I never had. She’s been my lifeline in my darkest days and my laughter on the best days.

And I am unbelievably excited to see her walk down the aisle towards the man she loves.

She chose the date of her wedding at random. It happened to be a Friday in March. It happened to fit into her and her fiance’s schedule. And so she booked it. And then she told me the date. And it also happens to be the 10-year anniversary of when Chris and I started dating.

Ten years is difficult for me to wrap my head around. Especially when it encompasses dating, graduation, marriage, parenthood, and death, all in one tidy decade. How that’s possible blows my mind. But there it is.

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There are so many theories about the timeline of grief. I read them all after Chris died, sure that one of them could give me the answers I was desperate for. Many of those theories depend upon the depth of the love, the history of the relationship, the resilience of the griever, etc.

But I have a different theory. I think the timeline of grief depends entirely upon how much you choose to subject yourself to the pain of it all.

Avoid the pain by being busy, by being distracted and negligent, and the pain doesn’t go away. It lingers behind closed doors until those doors burst open, and the pain re-enters, unwelcome and undiminished. The phrase “time heals all wounds” does not apply when you’ve spent that time pretending the wound doesn’t exist. And so it will well up in your chest and choke you up. It will scream inside your brain and leave you anxious and hurting.

On the other hand, if you battle in the thick of it every minute of every day, somehow you get stronger. You may not feel like you have a choice, but deep down you know you always do. And somehow in the midst of that battle, you develop new perspectives, you deal with any guilt and regret, you work through the tough stuff, you soak up the sadness. You learn to cope with the anxiety, and the rock of pain in your chest slowly wears down and dissolves, until it’s just a pebble in your pocket, a touchstone of memory and nostalgia.

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Until one day there you are, having fought psychological warfare and you find that you’re alive. You miss that person like hell. You always will. But you survived the nightmare of it all.

Death has ushered in new ways of being alive. Death has broken down the illusion of control over your life. Death has inspired faith. Death has unexpectedly made it possible to love again.

claresig

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