Clare Saumell VanderWeele

essays on living

Category: Grief (page 1 of 2)

Moving Forward

Isaac is about to turn 18 months old. It’s the same age Nicholas was the day he sat on my hip as two police officers stood in my kitchen and told me his daddy was dead.

18 months – the same size hands that wave goodbye, the same soapy smell in their blond hair, the same yell of “daddy” with a toothy grin. It’s another thread of grief that tangles itself in this picture.

It’s so easy to compare our children – not to see who’s ahead or who’s behind, but simply for nostalgia’s sake. They have the same laugh! Remember when…?

But my memories of Nicholas at this age have sunk into oblivion. Instead of nostalgia, there’s the imprint of raw grief and the regret that I don’t remember more.

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Grief Revisited

On my book shelf, on the second row, is a hoard of philosophy books. Pages and pages of words direct from the mouths of Heidegger, Kant, Kierkegaard, Descartes, Wittgenstein, and more. I’ve lost the fluency of it all – if I ever had it to begin with.

These were Chris’s books before he died, and I read over his shoulder. Like him, I graduated with a degree in philosophy, and it taught me the beauty of logic and questioning and truth-seeking. But when in this life am I ever going to pick up Nicomachean Ethics again? Or Gödel’s Proof?

There’s an odd sense of loss as I consider this shelf of forgotten books.

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A Letter to a Grieving Soul

Your heart pounds against the silence. There is only the blood that pumps fiercely through your body, chasing down meaning at a cellular level. There is only the crushing pain, the weight of emptiness, the hope that flew off when we weren’t looking.

I wish there was something I could say to you that would make things easier. That would illuminate the reason behind it all. That would bring you healing and peace.

But there never is.

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The Things I’ve Lost

When’s the last time you felt the startling realization that you left your phone/wallet/car keys in the store/restaurant/taxi?

That familiar stab of adrenaline, the quickening heartbeat, and sinking stomach? You don’t think rationally in those moments. You’re capable only of disbelief, fear, and anger.

If you’re a parent and you’ve ever lost sight of your small child at the park or in the store, you know that same feeling – or perhaps you can remember being that small child and you turned the corner only to find yourself entirely lost. Your lungs get tight, your stomach contracts, and it’s pure panic.

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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.

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On Being Known

Our world seems to have an obsession with being known. Perhaps it is an innate human need, I don’t know. But it lies at the heart of the insane phenomenon of celebrity culture and leaves few people unaffected by the opportunity to claim a mere 15 minutes of fame.

But is being known by many the same as really, genuinely being known?
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The Voice That Sings

A year ago, I published my first blog post. I wrote out of the desperate need to tell my story, to share my grief after the death of my husband.

I wrote about how there’s something deeply human about imagining worst case scenarios.

A year later, in this 3rd year since Chris passed, I haven’t stopped imagining. And yet, that initial grief has shifted. What once tore me apart on the inside and made it hard to breathe has since calmed itself.

It lingers like a scar.
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The Unexpected Goodbye: A Letter to Chris

My new neighbor cut their tree down last week. It wasn’t dead or diseased, but I’m sure there was some legitimate reason behind their decision to chop it down.

It was surrounded by other trees and houses, so it had to be cut limb from limb, one slice of trunk at a time. By the time they got to the base, I could see just how old it really was, its life on display in concentric circles, each telling a story.

My whole yard was littered in saw dust and broken branches and torn leaves, and the men sucked it all up clean and tidy, leaving nothing but space. But the roots are still there, all over everything. They snake over the ground and plunge into the earth. Big, old knotty things, preventing anything from growing in its place.

And isn’t that the way it is? Death strikes us down, but our roots stay stubborn and strong, our lives splayed out over everything.

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What exactly am I waiting for?

I don’t like to admit that much of my life these days is a fiery battle with a three year old. But that’s the truth.

And that’s how I ended up squeezed into his bed at 10pm one night, buried in Thomas the Tank Engine blankets, and reading yet another book.

Which is when I came across this most perfect verse:

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.

-from Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

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On Empty Milk Cartons and Gum Wrappers

Chris used to put almost empty milk cartons back in the fridge.

And when I say “almost” I mean there was literally one gulp left.

He’d eat almost all his dinner except two bites and put the almost empty plate uncovered in the fridge… On the off chance that one lonely bite of cold, congealed dinner would sound appetizing later.

He would leave empty tupperware containers in his car after work. Empty gum wrappers littered the bedroom floor as they came flying out his pockets, and empty Marlboro Reds packages would stack up on his night stand.

All the empty drove me nuts.

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