My daughter’s pet died this week.
It was sudden, unexpected, and strangely stunning in its timing. We know that the world is falling apart around us, but we forget that death is never locked out of our own four walls.
After my husband and daughter buried the pet (I realize I’m being vague but I’m trying to tell the story while respecting my daughter’s privacy), the three of us sat in her room talking.
She cried. I cried with her and for her. It wasn’t just tears for this loss, the loss of a life that she had faithfully nurtured for years. I cried for the loss that is to come. The losses that she will know too well; the losses I may not be there to cry about.
I thought for the millionth time that parenting is not for the faint of heart. But then again, loving wholeheartedly is not for the faint of heart either.
She turned to us and asked, “Is it wrong to distract myself? Is it okay to just do something so I don’t think about it?”
Her eyes glistened, her cheeks wet, her words cut with honesty. Garrett could tell what she was really asking was, “How do I grieve right?”
Garrett replied that there is only one wrong way to grieve. That caught my attention, and I turned to listen.
There’s a funny dynamic between us that, though I am the emotional one, he is the emotionally intelligent one. I say this not to put myself down but to recognize that my husband is comfortable in emotions, and I find that I feel them so strongly it can be hard to think about them. He has a unique wisdom in how he navigates strong feelings, especially with our kids, and I’m learning right alongside them.
The wrong way to grieve, he said, is when you try to do it someone else’s way. This is your loss. Only you know what you need. You don’t have to make it bigger or smaller; you simply get to carry it and care for yourself in the midst of it.
She nodded tearfully. He added that the sadness may come and go. Some days you may feel fine and other days lost at sea. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, it just means that is how your grief is affecting you–not because you’re broken, but because you loved a lot.
It’s a special and tender thing to walk a child (or any fellow soul) through heartache.
Since that conversation, I’ve been thinking a bit in the quiet moments about my own grief, about how I have always had a strong compulsion to lock grief away. In my imagination, grief is a living and hungry thing, best not to be fed or held or even given too much attention, as if neglect will make it heal (or at least go away). But just as there are few plants that grow best through neglect (that would be my ideal houseplant), there is also the truth that our grief doesn’t necessarily heal itself while we aren’t looking.
We can’t starve it away. In some ways, starving grief almost seems to freeze it, to cement it somehow in the landscape of our souls. What grief needs is honesty, courage, and time.
I resisted the urge to title this post “good grief” because it seemed too cliche and a bit lighthearted for the words that followed. But it is good, isn’t it? Grief is a reminder of loss, but it’s also a reminder that we cared, that we gave, that someone or something mattered deeply to us.
A life without grief is a life without love.
There is much to grieve around and in us these days. I hope you are able to hold your grief with hope. I hope your grief can remind you of your love and not just your loss. And I hope that those around you can love you well as you learn to carry your honest grief.