By Emily Smith
I’ve been experiencing grief since childhood, though at that time it was unnamed. Grief was an unwelcomed, nameless visitor sitting at the dinner table, lurking in the shadows.
I first experienced grief as I witnessed my mother’s struggles with her mental health intensify, to the point that being a mother was not at the top of the agenda. After a while, the nameless visitor evolved when my parents separated. It lurked in the shadows as I grew up, graduated high school, and went to college without my mother present. Grief had joined forces with bitterness, anger, and longing.
During my junior into senior year of undergrad, my father, who had been my best friend growing up alongside playing both mom and dad, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. After the whole cancer treatment thing, an esophagectomy, and finding that the cancer had spread — we battled a month-long hospice stint where my family endured watching him slowly wither away, and ultimately, pass away in the middle of the night while the house was sound asleep, hand in hand with my step-mother.
Losing the person who meant the most to me had named and invited me to the table of the thing I’ve always felt in some shape or form. Those feelings of regret, anger, bitterness, longing… It’s called grief.
Just as I was getting acquainted with this now recognizable lifelong roommate of mine, I received a call a year and a half later that my mother was found. The house I had built with my father’s grief had suddenly added rooms and looked almost unrecognizable.
They say the first year is challenging, but I quickly learned that it’s all hard. The anniversaries, birthdays, the typical triggers… but also the mundane moments. The times when you go to call them because for a second you slip away from reality into your past life. Moments where you’re in the grocery store and see something you’d tell them about. Or the times when you’re standing in Verizon Wireless to switch over your phone, bawling because you can’t lose those texts from your dead parents as you plea to the employee.
As I write this, it’s been four years since my father’s death and two since my mother’s. When you experience loss, others love to ask how you’re doing, and how you’re feeling, and also love to add comments such as “they are in a better place.”
In fact, I was asked to write this article about how I channeled my grief into something positive. I sat with this question for weeks. The more I thought about it, the more it felt connected to the good old “resiliency” award.
Whenever anyone goes through something difficult, hard, or traumatic — we commend them for being resilient or keeping positive. The truth is, you need and have to be resilient or positive. There is no choice, as life around you continues on and forward. We as humans learn to adapt, in life and in loss. It’s how we have survived since the beginning of time, and how we will continue to as we face our own traumatic events and experiences that shape us.
What I have felt has helped, is learning how grief fits. As life around me has moved on, I’ve learned how grief evolves with you. Grief creates a home with you, and as time passes, it rearranges the home you two have together. It redecorates and adds rooms. It invites itself to the dinner table every night without fail, some days feeling heavier and some days feeling lighter.
It’s not to say it’s easy or comfortable. In fact, grief and loss are extremely uncomfortable at times. No one enjoys feeling so down, hopeless, or lost. These moments of vulnerability and uncomfortableness are what helps us grow, and help us invite grief to the dinner table. When we are forced to sit with it, is when we are able to inquire and learn about grief, and more importantly, ourselves.
Our grief houses will forever be transforming and growing, and with any shift comes growing pains… But at the end of the day, we have to sit with grief at the dinner table. I welcome grief to my dinner table and all it encompasses.
For more information about Emily, you can check out her website.
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