Many people ask how I'm doing these days in the wake of my brother's untimely and traumatic passing. I appreciate the inquiries and the prayers thrown my way. I need them. The answer to the question of how grief is going is: not so great. I had this idea that I'd go away to school for two weeks in August and when I got back I'd have made peace.
Not so much.
I hear the surreal quality of life after a loved one dies can last up to a month if the death is anticipated, expected. After that "you just feel sad," my friend A told me. But that's with a "straightforward" loss. When it's complicated, when there's "unfinished business" in the relationship, says the grief web sites, that process can take much much longer and you can feel so many things. Here's the difference with me these days: I cry about a thousand times more often than I did before. You just mention a dead cat and I'll cry. You mention words like "grief," "sadness," "car accidents," my heart races and I'll cry. My muscles ache. I can't sleep, or I'm tired at the wrong time. I've been having daily stomach aches. And a panicky, fight-or-flight feeling when my daughters spill nail polish or raise their voices or make a mess.
Today I made one daughter cry after the spilled nail polish. It was not one of my finest moments. I said words in front of her that I never say in front of her. "I'm sorry, Mom!" she said about twelve times and then I told her emphatically that none of it was her fault. I wasn't mad at her. "So you're mad at the nail polish?" she asked, curiously. "I"m mad at the nail polish," I said. "And mad at myself for not doing a good enough job supervising." Inside my anxiety was swirling through my veins, my heart was pounding. I told myself to get a grip.
And that's what grief's been like. Not having a grip most of the time. And trying to get one in the moments when it really matters whether I'm successful at it--like when my daughter spills nail polish, or when someone wants a bedtime song, or dinner needs to be made, or a conversation needs to be had.
I've been reading Exodus 16 a lot this week, where God decides to send some bread from heaven to those fearful, gripey, hungry Israelites. Aaron has just gotten done giving them instructions for collecting their bread and then they "turned to face the wilderness. And there it was: the Glory of God visible in the cloud."
I resonate with the wilderness metaphor in relation to grief. It feels godforsaken. But I was moved at the idea of turning to face the wilderness-- in all its barrenness, desolation, desperation, and hoplessness--and seeing the glory of God above it all. That weighty splendor of his presence. And now, I've been asking to see it. I'm open for the first time since I got here--to the desert--to seeing his glory, to open myself to his presence. And not only am I open to it. I don't know how, like the Israelites, I could survive without it.