This past year, a lifelong friend experienced an unbelievable tragedy. She’s carrying all of that fresh, raw grief right into her first Christmas season with it, and it’s heavy. So very heavy. She recently reached out to ask me if she’ll ever be able to listen to Christmas music again without crying; if she’ll always feel like this.
Should I be honest? Do I tell her that my favorite Christmas station on Spotify is called A Comfortable Melancholy Christmas? I can’t help it. It’s exactly as it sounds. Comfortable. Easy on the heart. Not so shiny. Melancholy.
In The Fault in our Stars, Author John Green once said, “So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I am still trying to figure out how that might be.”
So this is my life.
And this is what I tell her.
That my life is the most beautiful and heart-breaking story I ever would’ve imagined. It is both. That I am still one of the happiest people I know. That everything– including Christmas– feels both happy and sad. That grief has made me the softest version of myself. I cry easy and often. A lot of the tears are happy tears because I cannot get over all the goodness in my life, in spite of the rest. I cry easily because there is so much joy in my life when I’m really paying attention. Everything feels meaningful. Everything feels overly special. And there are easy and often tears of grief, too. For the empty spaces. For the losses. For all of the longing in my heart that has no answer.
But I laugh easily too. And a lot. Because the rest of life–everything unrelated to grief— is so good. And there’s so much to laugh about.
And yet grief is always the underside of my joy and the line between the two can be so very thin.
I tell my friend that grief has made me the toughest version of myself. Because life is hard and this is what it has required of me. As a woman. As a mom. It’s hard to ruffle me. It’s hard for me to imagine something I can’t handle. I’ve stood in front of my husband’s casket while my brothers held me up on either side so I wouldn’t collapse. I’ve swam in the depths with my children and their own grief. I have carried it with them and for them. What is “hard” is suddenly very relative. But what is not hard is also very clear: Traffic. Running late. A rude cashier. Long lines. These things are not hard.
I bristle at comments and quotes that hint at the “gifts of grief”, but only because in my heart of hearts, they ring true. Grief itself is like a black hole. But these gifts within grief have made me who I am today. And I really like who I am.
Please understand, there are so many different kinds of grief. We talk a lot about grief related to death, but it’s more than that. It’s divorce. It’s a break up. It’s broken relationships. Addiction. Troubled kids. Illness. Chronic Pain. Chronic emptiness. Chronic…Life. There are, sadly, many different ways to have a broken heart.
So my friend, will you always feel the way you do right now?
Yes and no. Understand you will carry this grief with you forever. First, like an elephant on your chest, making it impossible to think clearly and somedays, even breathe. Then eventually, like heavy baggage chained to your ankle. You’re walking around with it, you’re doing it, you’re living, but it’s hard. You feel the weight of it all the time. It refuses to be ignored. And then years later, like a stone in your pocket. You’ll run your fingers over it, smooth and cool, checking to see if it’s still there. And it will be. It won’t always make you feel everything. But it will always makes you feel something. You will not forget it’s there.
If you befriend your grief…
If you learn to understand the tide comes in and the tide goes out…
If you lean into it and let it be whatever it is…
If you weave it into the fabric of your life and let it be part of who you are now…
You will have a life that is both happy and sad. Soft and tough. Tears and laugher. It’s not the life you would’ve chosen, but it’s more beautiful and meaningful than you ever could’ve imagined.