“I’m so sorry. Losing your daughter is a lot harder than what I’m going through,” a new acquaintance apologized, for voicing pain over the recent loss of her partner, as if her loss should yield some lesser quantity of heartache than mine.
“Grief is grief,” I said, shaking my head. Regarding her at that moment, I was sure if we were to rate our pains on a scale of one to ten, she’d win first prize.
I hate when I find myself comparing or scoring, or trying to measure grief. It really bugs me when people calculate that it hurts infinitely more to lose a child than a mother, or to lose two children over only one. And when someone tells me that it’s time to be done grieving, as if I’m out-of-whack or behind schedule, it makes me growl. Grief adheres to no predictable benchmarks as it rips you apart. Yet we feel compelled to compare; to measure the intensity, the duration, or the effects of our mourning; to mark our progress to recovery. Why can’t we simply accept grief as our individual journeys, our unique adaptations to loss that may eventually lead to growth and change, but could alternatively wipe us out?
Approaching the seventh anniversary of my daughter’s death, I fell into tracking my grief’s path over time. Looking back at my blog posts from Marika’s past angelversaries (now my most sacred holiday of the year), I wondered if I’d see healing. But there was no clear forward movement. Over the six years, I meandered. I celebrated. I wallowed in self-pity. There were anniversary posts filled with fear and dread about how I could possibly survive the day. There were years I obsessed about how to commemorate it. One year I was too busy worrying about Alzheimer’s disease and forgot to write about the anniversary. And last year I started the day immersed in sorrow, and ended up discovering how grief could melt into gratitude as friends surrounded me in support. Progress?
On Sunday, the day my daughter had been dead for seven years, I had sushi for breakfast, hiked with my inherited dog, and followed a friend to a hot tub. After, I gave myself a foot massage and made hot chocolate from scratch with Kahlua. I photographed trees in snow, and posted photos on Facebook. Things my daughter loved. And then I spent the evening lost in Photoshop, wandering in endless layers with her, “How about a new dress, Marika? A snow dress this time. Okay?”
Grief is grief. How do you make it beautiful?