By Carmelene Melanie Siani
“I have to get out of here,” my friend Sarah said in a rush, “I can’t watch this.”
Sarah’s mother had recently died of cancer and the movie we were watching—without either of us knowing beforehand—contained a scene in which a woman was losing her mother to cancer.
“Sorry,” Sarah was later saying over coffee. “I felt suffocated. I just couldn’t stand watching what was happening.”
Sarah was experiencing what is all too familiar to many of us— a wave of grief.
“Why did you do that?” the widower who was soon to be my husband challenged. “We don’t need Christmas decorations on the table. What’s the matter with you?”
He had been gone overnight for business and, it being a week or so before Christmas, I thought I would put up a Christmas table to welcome him home. I had trimmed the table with a red table cloth and candles and fixed sausage and peppers with rigatoni and salad. He had walked in the door and took one look at the table and a coldness came into his voice such as I had never heard before.
He tried, but he could barely be civil the rest of the night.
It turned out that his late wife of 48 years had made a very big celebration of Christmas—something I couldn’t have known—and this would be his first Christmas since she had died.
My soon-to-be-husband had been hit with a wave of grief.
I was standing at the meat counter at the grocery store, staring down at what was available to buy for dinner that night, when I saw a sign that read “Family Pack Chicken Sale.”
I looked at that stupid chicken and out of the blue it hit me that I didn’t have a family to buy family packs of chicken for any more; I didn’t have that circular driveway to pull into, or that house to walk into or that kitchen to cook in anymore.
It had been six years since the end of my three-decade marriage, and since the end of that family as I knew it. Six years since I had that driveway and that house and that kitchen and one family pack of chicken shows up in the meat counter and I had to run out of the store into my car to sob my heart out.
It was a wave of grief. You never know what’s going to trigger the waves.
It could be a song, a picture, a cup of coffee or a traffic light at an intersection. A Christmas table set with candles, or even something so seemingly innocuous as a family pack of chicken.
It can be just about anything.
And just like the real waves of the ocean, each one is different. Sometimes they don’t even look like crying. Sometimes they come in the form of anger, or in the form of coldness, depression or even over-exhilarated laughter. Sometimes they cause our bodies to hurt in strange places and our thoughts to become numb.
Sometimes they cause us to rush out of movie theaters. The waves themselves are unique to each individual, but what they have in common is their ability to suffocate and drown those trying to swim in the ocean of loss.
Every person has lost something. A parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a pet, a job, a house, a marriage, even their youth. There is a whole segment of our country this very day who have lost much of that all at once.
But then as the waves subside (and they do) grief begins to show its hidden treasure.
If we don’t fight it—don’t resist it, recognize its many faces and learn to ride out its waves—we will find that like the sea itself, it has the power to change our rough edges into smooth stone. Stones so smooth they shine like diamonds.
And the day will come when we will wake up treasuring them.
Editor: Dana Gornall