Turning the corner on grief

How do you know when you're turning the corner on grief?, they ask. There's hope and confusion in their eyes. And who wouldn't want the pain to end? But I can't lie and say, "On day one of year two, you will be all fixed up." I would never say that; they believe it anyway. (I believed it too. We must all make it up with our good imaginations.) And you can't tell them time makes any difference, even though it's totally true, because they will hit you. I might say, "give it time," and "I'm not sure there's really a corner, but you will feel better one day."

Here's what it felt like to be turning the corner on grief:
  • I had more good days than bad days.
  • I started to get ideas about things I wanted to do next.
  • I began to feel that my loss was not the worst thing that ever happened to anyone.
  • I had urges to see friends, exercise, clean up, and change things around.
  • I started to be able to help other people.
Some people mention that they start to be able to see things in color again, or they start to taste food again (which usually results in their being disgusted that they ate Cheerio's for dinner 6 months straight, but whatever. Accept and move on!)

I think what's important is knowing that for most of us, it's not dramatic, nor even a single event. (We say "grief is not linear," but seriously, is anything in life linear?) For most of us, we say we feel like we're going "two steps forward, one step back," (often, "two back and one forward"). We say it's a bumpy road, or a rollercoaster. We say it's better when the peaks are higher and the valleys are less low. Most valuable is knowing that the time scale is incredibly long: no matter how long "grief" lasts, it's not unusual for it to take several years to get to a stable place where you smile a lot. But it's not linear: you're not inconsolable and disabled and an open wound the entire time. You keep changing and the world keeps moving too, and sometimes you are in sync with it.

Sometimes you can find a perfect metaphor even if it doesn't QUITE fit. This story about the wonderful Frog and Toad (by Arnold Lobel) captures at least one tiny bit of it perfectly: that progress happens when things just keep moving along, however they will, and whatever you think you're looking for, keep your eyes open to the world around you.

My daughter hates it when story time makes me cry but these gentle little reptiles always get me in the gut. Toad has been soaked in the rain, and Frog shares a story about how his father told him to buck up, "spring is just around the corner:"
"I wanted Spring to come.
I went out
to find that corner.
I walked down a path in the woods
until I came to a corner.
I went around the corner
to see if Spring was on the other side."
"And was it?" asked Toad.

"No," said Frog.
"There was only a pine tree,
three pebbles and some dry grass.

I walked
in the meadow.
Soon I came to
another corner.
I went around the corner
to see if Spring was there."

"Did you find it?" asked Toad.

"No," said Frog.
"There was only
an old worm
asleep on a
tree stump."
(I love that worm. I love Frog and Toad so much).

And so on. Four corners, and spring is not around any of them. Disappointed, tired, Frog heads home as it starts to rain.
"When I got [home]," said Frog,
"I found another corner.
It was the corner of my house."

"Did you go around it?"
asked Toad.

"I went around that corner, too,"
said Frog.

"What did you see?"
asked Toad.

"I saw the sun coming out,"
said Frog. "I saw birds
sitting and singing in a tree.
I saw my mother and father
working in their garden.
I saw flowers in the garden."

"You found it!" cried Toad.

"Yes," said Frog.
"I was very happy.
I had found the corner
that Spring was just around."
(The entire delicious story is online here.)
And why do I love this? Because what makes spring come... is not so much the effort it takes to look around all those corners (although doing so is unavoidable) ... but the work it takes to plant a garden.

So keep hope in your eyes... but keep those peepers open, peeps, especially when things are changing. Spring's a-comin'.


carolyn said...

Jesus, girl, you make me cry every time these days. I don't remember that it was always that way. Fricking nonlinear rollercoaster one step forward-two steps back open wound that year two turns out to be, except when it's not.
I love Frog and Toad too. I miss the days of reading out loud to my girlie. We still have all those books, though. And every once in a while, she reads out loud to me, now. (When she's in the same country. Same state, same town, same house.)

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Um, sorry? You're welcome?
Thank you.
(I think.)

django's mommy said...

Perfect post. Amazing. I love Frog and Toad, and I love Spring. It is so much easier to look back and know I've turned that corner. Whew. What a wild ride it has been...

Anonymous said...

Great blog. Every word hit home for me.

Kiki said...

When the daffodils started poking their buttery little heads out two weeks ago I sat down and cried. I hate it every time a new season starts up because it's one more season further away from Steve. All the same, I'm ready to be far away from this dismal winter.

cb said...

ahhh.. I LOVE this! You really nail it. I felt things starting to change around 14 months after my husband died. One day after a yoga class (which I had just started a year after he died), I felt different, I felt maybe, remotely, ok. And yes, I remember the sun shining that day and seeing things in color a bit again, which is the gist of my blog if you don't mind my plugging it, I do think we can all find color in our lives again. It has taken me now 4 years to see things in full blown color but....little by little, it comes in, it will come in. Spring is the season of hope and for all the grieving...I wish that you find hope and color, again!



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