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Tag: grieve

Grief and Remembering Lost Loved Ones During the Holidays

A close family friend presented my mom with a crystal vase for her 50th birthday, which was not too long before she died. Her 50th birthday was a miracle: she was terminally ill and had not expected to make it to the age of 34.  Since my mom passed, our little makeshift family keeps her vase on a table in the dining area, and it’s filled with things like eggs or ornaments or pine cones to celebrate each of the major holidays. The vase is never really a centerpiece but, because it’s nearby for our most cherished dinners, it feels like my mom is there with us. The grief is still there but so is a sense of comfort, because we include her.

If you have lost a loved one, you know that holidays can be reminders of the voids we feel, the silence we hear, the hands we can’t hold. Read 5 Tips for Facing Grief During the Holidays, and remember what the author, Kristen Lamb, says:

 …you are NOT alone. There is an empty seat at my table too.


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morning poetry

I saw a couple embracing this morning. It wasn’t a hug; it was more of an intertwined tension, an electric current moving between their bodies. She fell into him like a rag doll and he pulled her up and in like he was trying to prop up her very soul, like he was trying to mend her whole being by wrapping himself around her. It was stunning. I felt like I was intruding by watching such an intimate display of emotion, but I couldn’t look away. There it was, a bit of poetry out among the traffic, men in suits bustling past them, the raging California sun beating hot on their skin. How simultaneously sad and lovely.


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It broke on a black winter night, the kind
that is so silent it feels like the pulse
of the earth has stopped. There was no wind, no
incessant barking of the neighbor’s dog,
no distant whoosh of passing traffic on
the highway across the glassy white field.

The only audible signs of life came
from him, the staccato of his knife on
the wooden board, and his faint, even breaths -
the legato. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Smooth in,
smooth out. Soon the water cymbal would hiss…

She came in and sat at the end of the
table. He glanced up, offered a small smile.
A pause in the rhythm. Tap, tap, tap, tap.
Pause. Smooth in, smooth out. She met his glance,
then greeted the napkin in front of her,
ran her fingertip along the crisp fold.

Tap, tap, tap, tap. Smooth in, smooth out. And then
she said it. So flatly, not with the itch
of a tongue heavy with news, nor the hushed
telling of a secret (though it was both).
Tap, tap, tap, tap. Pause… He didn’t take a
breath until he felt the burn in his lungs.
A sharp inhale. No more cutting. He waited
for her, for the words to rush in like a
guest who is late to Friday dinner.

But the room was as silent as the earth.
He felt the burn in his lungs again but
didn’t inhale. He needed to hear her,
needed those words to arrive, peel away
the silence the way he unwound his scarf
in their mudroom when he came in from the
cold. He waited, the knife frozen in flight.
The pause became a halt. The crescendo.

When he could stand the burn no longer, he
inhaled. Clunk. The knife fell onto the board.
As if on cue, the hiss of the water
came in like a cymbal. They both looked at
the pot instinctively. Then at each other.
Her eyes darted to the napkin, then the
mudroom door – and he realized she wasn’t
going to say anything more; the words
weren’t on their way. She was already
set on her exit. She had already
cocooned herself in enough layers to
keep out the chill. He began to feel how
thin his sweater was, like paper. How thin
the air felt each December. How thin he
had become to her, that he could be wiped
away in one deft motion, like the frost
that clung to the windows over the stove.

He moved toward her, reached out – why? Why was
he reaching for her when she couldn’t be
held onto…? The sound stopped him. Glass. Something
breaking. He scanned the floor. The pieces were
little kaleidoscopes, fragmenting the
navy pattern on the floor below them.
He must have knocked down something… He lifted
his gaze, to ask her to help him clean up.

At the end of the table, a chair sat
vacant, pushed back haphazardly so the
left leg rumpled the edge of the rug, worn
from a decade of that same chair being
pushed back against it. And on the table,
an empty space where the napkin had been.

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How Long Do We Grieve

broken-to-ok- by Claire Bidwell Smith, therapist specializing in grief and author of The Rules of Inheritance.


“We grieve until we don’t anymore, but we love forever.”


I dropped my daughter off at preschool this morning; and after I’d tucked her lunchbag into her cubby, read her a few books, and given her a hug, I stood outside the schoolhouse drawing hearts on the window pane for her, while she smiled at me from the other side.

Then I got in my car and drove away.

This morning, like a lot of mornings over the last month, I thought about the parents of the Newtown. About how they once said goodbye to their children each morning with ease and confidence, and how that has forever changed.

I thought about how it’s been over a month since those children were killed and how so many of us have gone back to our regular lives, occupied by other news stories, new year’s resolutions, bills, travel plans.

But while the rest of us are moving on, many of those parents in Connecticut are perhaps just now entering into the real throes of their grief.

The first year of grieving someone you love is like no other. There are whole swaths of denial, moments and days when it just doesn’t seem real. And then worse, it does start to feel real and then there are whole moments and days when the pain is almost unbearable.

I can recall many times in my life when I’ve stood in empty rooms of houses where someone I loved once lived and how I sank to the floor, utterly consumed by what felt like endless waves of grief and torment over their absence.

One of the most common questions I’m asked, both as a therapist and as someone who writes about grief, is how long it lasts. How long will I grieve? Does it ever end?

My answer is always the same: It’s different for everyone. But I can tell you that grief almost always lasts longer than the people around you expect it to.

Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them that grief can last years. Others are relieved to hear this, because they already know it to be true.

I do believe that there can be an end to active grieving. I think there comes a time when the real, raw pain of grief ends, when you no longer think about that person’s absence first thing in the morning.

There comes a time when you move forward in life without thinking about how they’re not beside you while you do it. Eventually the regret and remorse, the unanswered questions and all the what-ifs surrounding the loss, start to soften.

After a while the sad memories of the end are replaced by better ones from the beginning. Eventually enough time passes and it becomes easier to talk about them without crying, easier to remember them without wanting to sink to your knees.

But just because grief has an end doesn’t mean your love for that person does too. I think we always miss the people we lose, that we never stop wishing they were still here with us.

It’s just that we learn to live with their absence, we learn to live our lives without them, as impossible as that can often seem in the beginning.

I’ll don’t think I’ll ever stop wishing my mother and father were still around to see my girls, to meet my husband, and to see how I’ve grown into adulthood. But I can move forward through my life now without breaking down over their absence.

There was a time when each new thing I accomplished — graduating college, getting a great job, publishing an article or entering into a new relationship — was bittersweet in their absence. But that is no longer true for me. The pain of it all is gone.

In its place is a kind of weathering, not just the kind that comes with age, but one that comes with deep sorrow and yearning, a particular kind of crinkle around my eyes, or in the lines around my mouth.

If you look hard enough you can see it in all of us who have mourned, how we have given ourselves over to time because we have had to, because its the only thing that brings us both closer to and farther away from the people we love.

So however long it takes us to find that place, however long it takes us to put one foot in front of the other again, however long it takes to smile, to love life again, is simply how long it takes. There is no right answer.

Think about how much you love your most cherished people. While that love may have appeared instantaneously in some cases, over time it grew and grew until it was so big that there became no separation too vast, no amount of time too great, in order to reverse it.

We grieve until we don’t anymore, but we love forever.

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Fast Getaway

Why do we prolong our suffering, insist on a rite or a moment of closure? Sometimes it is simply best to retreat, swiftly, without fuss, as soon as we realize it isn’t working. No carefully chosen words, no final piercing statement, no desperate attempts to mend something that is broken beyond repair.

Because, really, what’s the point? On the other side of all that fuss still lies The End.

We will make excuses, cling to hope, wait for that one crucial gesture to turn it all around – but it won’t come. And we know. Deep down, we know the exact moment it is really over. We just won’t accept it or admit it.

Next time – and there will be a next time – embrace the loss and uncertainty. Run toward it.

Because the faster we move through the darkness, the sooner we will find the light. When we learn to let ourselves fall hard, and grieve harder, we also learn to stand tall and, finally, fly again.

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Why are we so careless with words? These things that so easily break us. These things that have the power to change a heart, a future, a faith in an instant. And after, we can never return to the place we were before those words were said; we may forgive or move on or sow something beautiful in the soil of our wounds, but we will always remember.

The words we didn’t want to hear, whether sharp or flat or waning, slither under those inner layers of skin and burrow in. Over time, they are absorbed or absolved but their outlines will remain, faint etchings, tattoos of past hurts done and felt. We only realize their power after they have left our tongues, after they have ushered in the pain or the anger or the stagnant death of something precious and begun making their way below the surface, into those hard-to-reach places.

It is only then, when we have slipped off the edge, when we have lost or, worse, caused another’s loss – it is only then, with those caustic words echoing in our ears, that we manage to bite our tongues.

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Works in Progress

If I write an exquisite place, if I write it with the intimate detail of a poet describing a lover, so specific that the words become a painting – if I write it, can I go there? Can I step inside the page, into a place where he is so far away that I dare not miss him?

If I write about the walls of my heart, tiny tears sliding down them like wax upon the surface of a lit candle, will these walls melt in on themselves? Will they burn off the remnants of this almost-love, leave an open space I can begin to fill up again?

If I write about the blue of his eyes, write it into hymns about skies and oceans and old denim jeans, write it until I have exhausted every possibility of a blue vision, will his eyes fade from memory? Will that particular color, those heavy brows, that lingering stare be less familiar? Will his become just another set of blue eyes that met mine in passing, soon to be forgotten?

I will write every inch of his skin to stop missing him. I will fill notebooks to be able to wake up on the other side, to leave this in a big, inky mess upon my floor…

(If I find any other words, I will tell a different story.)

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REM Cycle

My dreams have been invaded. The ghosts of solitude come stomping through night after night, toppling the tiny sanctuary walls I have been so painstakingly constructing, leaving me exposed, disheveled. Leaving me, for once, silent.

There is nothing mysterious about my dreams; maybe they are too overtly symbolic to inspire any bittersweet romanticism or wonderment…

I repeatedly have a dream in which I arrive at his house to borrow something - a bowl of sugar, I think. After he greets me at the door, I follow him up a towering flight of stairs for what seems like hours. When I reach the top, dazed, clutching a white, empty bowl, he is nowhere in sight. And so I stand there and wait again.

This needs no dissection. I arrive at his house and ask him to give me something I don’t have, then climb endlessly behind him, then lose sight of him, then wait longer. I’m actually disappointed in my subconscious for not coming up with anything more creative.

A few nights ago I had a new dream. I open a tattered, white door and enter what is apparently his house. I walk through countless empty rooms, all impeccably clean, trimmed in white walls and wood grain, bright with sunlight. I hear him in the distance but never see him. I finally reach a small closet that is brimming with my clothes, then begin to empty them out.

Again, no enigmatic undertones.

What is noteworthy is that these dreams aren’t really about him; instead, they seem to be centered around the walking. It’s like they stall in the middle and I become caught in perpetual movement, step after step after step – a constant, monotonous walk. It really feels like I walk for hours.

What am I supposed to learn from this? Am I bound to keep walking toward an end I can’t see, toward someone who isn’t there? Am I trapped in the solitude of these empty houses?

Can I turn and run?

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