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The Mess of Grief

 Photo by Anastasiia Pyvovarova on Unsplash
Photo by Anastasiia Pyvovarova on Unsplash

Look at the picture above. What do you see? Do you see a mess? A work of art? Or a tool used to create?

I was on a Zoom call and we were talking about life and how complicated it can be (yes, this was a business meeting, not a counseling sesh but, to be honest, it could've been.) I happened to look behind me to see what was in the picture. I saw this.

Yes, that is actually me. I was laughing just as I grabbed the shot. Ignore me, look behind me.
Yes, that is actually me. I was laughing just as I grabbed the shot. Ignore me and my desk, look behind me.

On the whiteboard behind my desk, is a poem my mom gave me from Darling magazine. It's their mission statement and it's beautiful. Over my other shoulder, is some "abstract art" my daughters made for me when left unattended in my office.

I was struck by the visual order of the Darling quote. In my handwriting, there are clear and distinct lines. The art is less orderly and total chaos–the lines don't have a path that is easy to follow.

The other person on the other side of the Zoom call and I were laughing about how we just expect things to go as we assume, it rarely does. That's when I looked up and saw that exact thing illustrated for me. For some reason, I thought of grief.


If you are like me, you have a high need for closure. I contribute mine to the unexpected loss of my brother. I need to prepare myself for the ending, I am not a fan of surprises or departures for that reason. It's irrational and yet makes sense given what has happened in my life. When I looked at those handwritten words vs the art, it occurred to me that we often think of grief this way. Stick with me. We expect grief to come in phases and stages. There are clear cut lines and there will be an end when we're "over it." (left side of my picture.) The right side is how it actually is: a hot mess up close, strangely beautiful from afar. Sometimes we feel one emotion, sometimes another, and sometimes all of them hit at once. Grief has no timeline or boundaries. Grief is greedy and it is not sorry about it.

If you are new to the grief journey, I'm sorry. I truly am. My empathy is aching for you. As has been said to me a number of times, "we're part of a club no one wants to be in." I have asked myself why life is so hard sometimes. I was reading "Untamed" by Glennon Doyle when I was stopped in my tracks. I had just been complaining about life being hard.

Let that sink in. Soak in it until your fingers are all pruney (if you don't know what that's from, see: French Kiss with Meg Ryan. You're welcome.) Life is not the grand movie we expect it to be. It isn't the sweet rom-com we watch and ache for. Sure, there are those moments, but this moment–losing someone–is part of being human. That does not make it easy, far from it. What it does do, is gives us grace to feel the feelings, when we feel them, so we feel them, and they don't make us feel like we didn't feel them later which makes us feel even worse. You feel me? (Yes, I did try to break the record for the most uses of "feel" in a sentence. I win.)

 Photo by Anastasiia Pyvovarova on Unsplash
Photo by Anastasiia Pyvovarova on Unsplash

So back to my Zoom call and the photo. When we are in the trenches of grief, there is a hot mess. It's awful. There's a blob of red here, a dash of blues there, a baby poop brown on the edge, and strokes that don't make sense. Look again though, there is a beautiful picture. You just have to wait for it to be created and when it's being created, it is hard and awful. Also just like a work of art, it doesn't go away. Like a painting–it's on the canvas forever. Unlike a painting–paint thinner will not take this away.

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