Good Grief

Grief is a funny thing. Once you think you’ve mastered it, tucked it in a front shirt pocket over the heart where it can come along for the ride, but not get in the way, you end up leaning over and it falls on the floor. It causes a great stirring, making a ruckus as it rolls, clanging and banging with a great metallic clatter. Oh what a mess! Grief fell out again and it took my heart with it. 

In the beginning, when grief was allowed to run rampant, I had the sensation that I could not breathe. I felt every breath. It was as if I were sensing the life within me. Breath is life. Her last words were “I can’t breathe.” It’s all I ever thought about and her eyes. Whenever I closed my own eyes, I saw hers. Dull, grey, unblinking. Unwavering. Staring. She used to look at me with those eyes. Sometimes she would look at me too long, too much in awe, and I would be annoyed. It was as if she were looking at a piece of art in a museum. I hated that look. I didn’t want to be that special to her. 

Today, as I leaned over a patient sitting in a chair to listen to her heart, it struck me that her arms looked just like my mom’s. My mom was fair-haired and her arms were always pale with a splatter of freckles. Over the years, those freckles coalesced into the tell tale signs of aging. Larger patches of brown replaced the tiny freckles of youth. Her skin took on a crepey texture, like tiny wrinkles in a piece of paper. Subtle. They could be smoothed back out again. I look at my own arms now, they are starting to take that shape. I don’t have as many of the freckles/age spots as my mom did, but they are there. Ghosts of Christmas future. 

My eyes moved over her arms. I looked at the clothes that she was wearing. Just like my mom. A pair of slacks and a “dressy” t-shirt. Flowers with accents, glitter and diamonds. Maybe a scrawl of cursive, did it say, “dream?” I felt a pang in my chest. I had the sudden urge to hug this woman. Tell her how much I missed her. Tell her how hard things have been. How tired I felt. How I didn’t want to have this knowledge of how mean people could be.

How silly would it have been if I did hug her. Me in my face shield, N 95 mask, gown, gloves, during a pandemic. No one hugs anymore. No one especially hugs strangers. And she’s sick. I pulled back after listening to her heart, a little startled at my moments journey into grief. Could that have been my mother’s heart? The one I couldn’t restart? No this one is working just fine. Her lungs were good, too. I felt a mist of tears in my eyes. It was good to remember my mom. It brought me back to myself. I had tucked that grief away a little too well. I wasn’t feeling much of anything lately. I was going through the motions because there was just too much to feel. There was too much sickness and not enough of me to go around. 

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17 Responses to Good Grief

  1. Debra Bures says:

    Grieving is a process, rather than an event, I think. It ebbs and flows, and sometimes it emerges just enough to give a good swift kick in my tender heart. 2020 has turned up the volume on the Grief Channel to 11. We’ve not only lost friends, family members, and neighbors; we’ve lost jobs; we’ve lost connections; we’ve lost a sense of normalcy.

    This has been a tough year. A pandemic that has touched all of us, and slammed into others; a divided country; a contentious election. We haven’t seen our adult children since last Thanksgiving I think we will, if we don’t already, have cultural PTSD.

    One thing about this, is that we’re no longer strangers. We acknowledge each other in the grocery store, and in the post office. We greet each other over the interweb clothes lines. These are things for which I am grateful.

    Sending you and yours love, light, and laughter; joy; health; growth; and peaceful hearts.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes! In a way our masks are making us look into each other’s eyes. Everything else falls away. Everyone of us has been touched by grief this year. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m hopeful that when can be close again, we have learned something valuable. We will truly be able to appreciate each other.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, now, I know you didn’t mean to make me cry, but there you are.

    Such a lovely, heartbreaking/heartwarming story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. V.J. Knutson says:

    I think grief is cumulative – that’s why it’s so hard to keep a cap on it. Hugs and blessings to you for all you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Glenn Redus says:

    Thanks, Doc. I liked your analogy about tucking it in a shirt pocket, only to have it fall out. You’re right, grief never goes away, but the longer you live with it, you start to realize that not going away is a very good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. dawnkinster says:

    You never know where that grief is going to pop up. I remember being in a grocery store years after my mother’s unexpected death, crying over apricots, missing her so much. It came out of nowhere, but I’ve learned to just go with the flow when the flow overtakes me.


    Thank you for writing this, and for your work with so many patients. I couldn’t do what you do and I admire you for doing it. I hope you get a break soon and that everyone takes the vaccine so that we can slow down and eventually stop the spread of covid. Meanwhile, know there are a lot of us out here who would give you a hug if we could. Try to imagine us all here when you get tired.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Deb says:

    I’ve cried more lately over silly things, over little changes and big, over things that normally would never be cry-worthy. I suspected it was just the holidays, bringing up memories but I think you have a clearer picture. It is so much bigger, so much more.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You write about grief and love with equal empathy, we’re fortunate you write as we benefit from your ability to put into words such deep feelings. Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

  8. lizziecarver says:

    The world needs hugs so much right now. Sending a virtual one to you, with thanks for all your life-enhancing work.

    Liked by 2 people

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