I don’t know if it will ever make sense to me how one moment I can be smiling, laughing and content, and the next suddenly find myself transported to some place that’s like a dark, shadowy pit, and hearing someone cry out like a psych ward patient, only to realize… the cry is coming from me. This is the sound of grief. That’s not the only sound grief makes, but in those moments that’s all I can think about. The wailing… that’s what grief sounds like. For me it often feels like an out of body experience. But almost within the same thought, I remind myself that this is a very present, very real reality that I can’t escape.
These moments of overwhelming grief from the loss of my parents- my dad from MS when I was 19 and my mom in six short months from breast cancer when I was 27- is not something I can truly describe. Maybe it’s like having your heart in a vice, or having your heart suddenly fill with stones, or having a rope tied around it with an anchor hanging off of it, or having the anchor hanging off it while it’s in a vice and filled with stones. And I wind up sometimes on the floor, feeling heavy like my body is some sort of sentient bag of stones. That is the weight of sorrow. In these moments, if I’m not gasping for air between near-uncontrollable wails, I’m reminding myself to breathe.
Sometimes I feel it coming on slow and steady, and other times I’m literally going about my day one minute and flat on the floor in grief in an instant. But I have to fight- I force myself to feel the grief, no matter how deep it goes. If I don’t, it’ll eat me alive some other way. I’ll start to run and I’ll never stop, and I’ll maybe manage to stay a few steps ahead of it but I’ll always be running. I’ll never be free. No, the only freedom comes from facing it, in going through that fire, in having the courage to go endure the catharsis in order to reach healing at the other end.
So I wail. I cry out to God. I let the memories of my beloved parents come to me. This time they’re slow at first, each a few seconds long, allowing me to take in the moments I’m recalling… these memories that have become treasures… But then I remember a painful memory- and suddenly it all speeds up. It doesn’t take long for them to come at me faster and faster until they overwhelm me in flashes like film that’s fallen off a reel. And I wail. I listen to the sounds I never thought a human could make. It’s hard to believe I’m making this sound, but I acknowledge them as mine. This is the sound of my grief. My grief. My own. Only I can feel my grief. And I cry out to God. I’m at the end of myself and can’t go any further. My mind spins wildly, and I cover my head with my hands but I can’t slow it down. The wailing continues and I struggle to breathe. My bones rattle inside my body and I want to crawl out of my skin. …..God, please take this. I’ve come to the end of myself.
Although there’s no telling how long the moment will be once it’s begun, eventually the grief subsides. Eventually the moment decrescendos. It’s often like a symphony with all its movements, ebbs and flows of intensity but never subsiding until it’s ready to.
And when it has, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. The overwhelm of grief is exhausting. And I’m numb. But another wave of grief has finally settled. If I haven’t already blacked out and fallen asleep, I can finally sleep now. I am completely spent. In my numbness I finally sleep.