Monday, January 23, 2017

With Feathers

I don't pretend to know grief. Not because it hasn't touched my life; it has. In the last year, it has touched the lives of my family in a deep and profound way from which we are still reeling. In truth, a life not touched by grief doesn't really exist, but still--I don't pretend to know grief.

I don't pretend to know grief, because I have seen through the grief of my sister, through the grief of my nephew and niece, that grief cannot truly be known. 

To each of us, grief is different. For me, when my brother-in-law Ken died a year ago today, grief first manifested itself as anger. The anger has long since subsided, but in that moment, in the time of the longest year of our lives, the grief I knew was red and raging. 

Well-meaning people always try to understand another's grief. They try to define it. They try to compartmentalize it. They try to push it along. I was well-meaning. In my mind, I wanted my sister and her children to be healed immediately. I wanted them to go on about their lives without a ripple, without a pause. 

Watching my sister hurt was unbearable. It intensified my anger in such a way that was alarming, nearly overwhelming. I watched as she cried, as she held everything together for her kids. I watched as she searched for a place to put her grief, as she pointed her pain to rebuilding her life. 

Well-meaning, as I was, I hoped she'd heal. "Hope is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul," and the thing about hope is that it can fly away as easily as it lands. My hope that my sister will heal hasn't gone, but the reality of grief has finally dawned.

A photo posted by Katie Ross (@katieross83) on

I don't know grief. None of us do. Oh, we may be intimately familiar with its ebbs and flows, with its phases and stages. With the bullet points and books and hollow words that attempt to explain it, to explain us to ourselves. But grief has many faces. It wears many masks. It speaks in tongues that our ears cannot hear and cannot know. 

My sister's grief is her own. I don't try to understand it. I don't try to define it. I don't hurry it along. I don't know what words will help, so I stick with an old stand-by that never says enough: I'm sorry.

And I am sorry. I'm sorry that I ever tried to know her grief. I'm sorry that her grief has become her constant companion. One that she faces bravely even on the hardest of days. 

Today is a hard day. I know it will be, but I can't know how hard. Only she and her children are living the reality of their tragedy, the daily weight of it that punishes and takes.

I watch them survive and thrive despite the pain. I watch her raise two of the most loving, intelligent children I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.   

But a life passed doesn't just disappear. It doesn't vanish. It doesn't end. 

Ken lives on. He lives on in so many ways. In Garrett's silly dances and songs, in his stubbornly huge heart that constantly watches over others. In Tessa's sweet giggles and sharp intelligence, in her perfect hugs and bright, smiling eyes. His children were his perfect gift. 

The grief we feel over Ken's passing is unique to each of us. We live through it every day. And yet, life does go on, even when you feel like it shouldn't. 

A year has passed, and it's been both achingly long and breathtakingly short. We miss you, Ken, and wish daily that instead of this unknowable, unbearable grief that, just for another moment, we had you. 
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