The Observation of Grief

Or, What I Learned While Blogging Through My Sister’s Death

It has been many years since I first picked up C.S. Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed. I enjoyed the read, but the impact on me at the time was minimal. After all, it would be another 30 years or so before I would experience anywhere near the level of grief Lewis wrote about after losing his wife to cancer.

In 2013, faced with the certainty of my sister’s approaching death, and having been recently reminded of my father’s mortality, I felt so overwhelmed that, for a time, I stopped writing altogether. During that period of sadness and depression, I did not think I could compose a coherent sentence, much less a blog post. Being overwhelmed by the emotions surrounding loss, for really the first time in my life, completely shut me down.

Then I learned that a blog challenge combined with the indomitable human spirit can have incredible healing power.

The first time I posted anything about my sister’s illness was in response to the Remember the Time Blog Hop initiated by fellow-blogger Emily, here. My first, gut response when I read the challenge was, “Hell no.” The grief felt too sharp and I thought pulling it out in words would only cut deeper and increase the pain I was already feeling. Thankfully, I changed my mind, and just the opposite occurred. What began as a response to a blog challenge became a habitual, cleansing outlet for the rest of the pain about to come in spades. Sometimes doing what you think is impossible turns out to be what saves you. Blogging through the pain of my sister’s death did just that for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still miss her. I have bouts with anger and sadness and frustration and loneliness and … and – but blogging gets all of that out of me. Emotions stuck inside make me sick – heartsick, if nothing else. Blogging is a great way to purge.

I am a slow reader. Not that it’s a race or anything, but I’ve read enough about reading to know that if you can ‘hear’ the words in your head, then it’s taking you too long to read them. But that’s just it, I have to hear the words in order to process them. Sometimes I have to hear them with my ears (my own words, mind you – literally hear them coming out of my mouth), but if there isn’t anyone around to talk to, I write. When I write, I listen. I listen to my own words as they appear on the page. That’s my process: writing=talking –> listening=processing.

Sometimes my thoughts resemble an endless loop, like a math problem I can’t resolve. Putting words to the pain solves the equation, letting my mind rest. Perhaps I write because I must – because the only other choices are insanity or stagnation.

Writing pushes me forward. Once I post something, I pretty much have to move on (compulsive over-editing notwithstanding). Whereas, when the words are swirling around in my head, I cannot move at all. It is as if the vortex of complex ideas and emotions need unraveling, lest they wrap me up like a mummy. Once I capture the ideas into words that make sense, then, and only then, I can do a brain dump and walk on to the next dilemma. Forward motion is a good thing, especially when stuck in forward, linear time.

Sometimes grief screams at us not to move forward, as if to do so constitutes some sort of betrayal of the one we lost – as if they did not move on. Had I not been committed to walking through every step of the grief, I never would have written a word about my big Sis. That would have been tragic indeed, as I would have missed out on the joy it brought me to remember her in words and share her life with whoever read my blog. I never would have known the power my words could have in the lives of other people who were silently grieving with me. Above all, I would not have been able to successfully process the intense emotions overwhelming me. Grief can be maddening; there are so many stages of negative emotions to go through, and there are moments when it just feels like the stages will never end. Writing pushed me through each one, not always at the same pace, but through them, never-the-less.

Time heals all wounds? Not by a long shot.

I once met a couple whose teenage son had been taken from them by a terrible accident some thirty years previous. I cannot recall ever having met two more angry, bitter souls over the course of my life. The circumstances of their son’s death had left them angry with God, and the bitter accusations against Him ran on between them in an unsolvable loop. They made the choice together not to move on.

The problem with feeding this kind of pain is that it grows too large to contain. Like a soufflé, bubbling over the sides of an inadequately sized pan, the grief eventually spills out to taint our work, relationships, and even our ability to enjoy life itself. I am unsure throughout the course of our conversation if the couple was ever able to talk about anything except their son’s death. Their loss had utterly consumed them for literally a lifetime. They had become mired in the past with no pathway forward. Meanwhile, their son had moved on.

Soon after that, I met another couple whose college-age son had been murdered. His girlfriend’s father believed the two were sleeping together, so he went to the young man’s house, knocked on his door, and shot him in the chest, killing him instantly. The amazing aspect of this story is that I did not know that these people had lost anyone – much less their son – for almost six months after meeting them. In fact, a mutual friend told me about his death. They were one of the happiest couples I have ever met. We came to know them well, and I eventually learned the whole story of their loss and how the two had walked through their grief with grace and forgiveness. The contrast of the two couples has stayed with me for more than twenty-five years, serving as two very different examples of how to handle grief.

If we live long enough, grief will come to us all. But words have power – within and without. Words can heal, hurt, abuse, encourage, amaze, devastate, and so much more. How do you use words? Have you ever been affected by the words of others? Have you ever used words to help you handle the grief in your life? Do you ever feel like the words in your head have formed an endless loop that you cannot escape? Have you ever tried writing them loose?