The Thing About Grief

Ten years ago today I lost my mom.

I am fully aware that some of you are tired of reading about me losing my mom. And I get it. Many people feel that way—”grief comes, and it goes, and you have to move on”—but we’ll get to that in a second.

Ten years ago today I lost my mom.

I’ve grieved over that loss ever since.  

It’s not an everyday grief like it used to be. I have days when I wake up to my dog licking my face, and my heart swells in a way I never thought it could. (That kiss is usually followed by an absolutely atrocious bark—a “MAWM! TAKE ME POTTY! RIGHT NOW!”—but somehow that only slightly diminishes the joy that spawns from those mornings.) I have days like this past weekend, at the beach with my sister, most of which was spent in the ocean, diving through waves with her stepdaughter, my niece (I love saying that). Hours passed, and I realized my mind wandered nowhere but the salt and the sea and my sister’s love. A true gift called being present. There are trips with my boyfriend, nights with my best friends, phone calls with my brother, and afternoons with my dad and his wife and her daughters. I find deep and incomparable gratitude for these precious moments amid this wild ride we call life.

But there are also moments of grief. Paralyzing, heart-shattering, breath-sucking moments of grief.

And that’s the thing about grief.

“Grief (n):deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.”

The dictionary describes grief in those eight words. But what is grief, really? When you think about grief, what do you feel? What memories shatter your heart in the best and worst way? What emotions break down those barricades you’ve put up in your mind for so many years? What words do you wish you had one more moment to say? What days do you wish lasted just a little bit longer, came a little later, or never happened at all?

I asked a few important people in my life about this—brilliant colleagues, wonderful friends, people who’ve touched my soul or keep a place in my heart, and of course, my family (each of whom embodies all of those characteristics and more).

Eight words are simply not enough.

“Grief is a reminder of all the things in your life you think you tucked away in a nice, little box labeled ‘past trauma.’ It’s an emotional nudge that helps keep you human. It has a tendency to knock the breath out of you at the least opportune time and bring you to your knees with sadness.”

A wedding, a baby shower, Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday, August, my dad holding my stepsister’s baby, my grandmother eating birthday cake, a photo of the arch in Cabo San Lucas, my sister’s engagement, Sunday mornings.

“I became numb to my own highs and lows. Accomplishments don’t feel good enough. Disappointments feel deserved.”

A new job, a good grade, a hurtful remark from a colleague, a fight with a friend, a solid relationship, a scary doctor’s appointment, a question you can only ask your mom.

“If life is a road, grief is a crack in the asphalt. It splinters, grows, twists and has no linear destination. There’s no way of knowing how long or deep or wide those fissures will grow. Grief evolves as we evolve in our lives. Some years the fractures may splinter and run into other cracks. Some years it may not move at all. Despite all of the unpredictable characteristics of grief, one thing is constant: it changes you. The innocent, pristine road we once knew now has deep fractures and scars. We can fill the potholes and crags, but still, the outlines of our tragedy will always be there. While grief may never leave us, through it, we can become stronger. We become different. Through the years it brings us sad tears and happy memories, bad days, and new perspectives. And at the heart of it all, grief means we had someone to love.”

In the months following my mom’s passing, I talked or wrote often about how much I missed her love, about the void that only seemed to grow vaster and wider and deeper, penetrating my heart and changing my soul, leaving me with questions that would never be answered and mornings I simply hoped would not come.

“Grief: a longing so painful you feel incapacitated.”

Two responses during that dark time in my life still stand out to me, even 10 years later: A college friend (who genuinely didn’t know how to handle my sadness at 20 years old and tried to keep me present amid our fleeting years of USC fun) said, “You gotta pick yourself up by the bootstraps and move on, Kendall.”

“Grief is a deep abiding pain and sorrow that shatters our lives with disbelief, anger and thoughts of what we should have or could have done while our loved one was alive. Some people say, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get over it,’ but I don’t believe that. I think we work through our despair, but to ‘get over’ losing someone, means to forget the depths of love that caused the pain. No way! God made us to love and be loved. The pains of grief will ease, but a piece of our heart will always be broken. That’s love.”

A friend of my dad’s sought to comfort me by commenting on Facebook, “Time heals all wounds.”

“Grief is losing a part of you, and knowing you will always eternally be heavier because of its absence.”

Their words mirror what so many people believe and adhere to in order to get through the pain of grief: It comes and it goes, and you have to move on.

“As corny as it sounds, time really did help me start to heal. Time to think, cry, laugh, cry more and think more. I started to flush things out, good memories didn’t make me sad, laughing about him made me laugh instead of cry.”

And that’s the thing about grief.

“Grief is a very deep-seeded emotion that can be short-lived for some; or take on a life of its own for others. It has many gradients based on the relationship. The loss of a mother, father, wife, husband, child or sibling will be felt in different ways.  Each of us handles grief differently based on our own personal experience in that relationship and the circumstances of how we lost that loved one. We each find our own path through it.”

Grief can come, and it can go. It can appear once a day or once in a decade. It can come gradually, or pierce through your atmosphere in an instant.

“Grief is a love that has imploded, like a star’s core that has surpassed its mass.”

The dictionary and many people describe grief as something “especially caused by someone’s death.” But everyone—whether they realize it or not—has experienced grief in a completely different capacity at one point or another. Grief is so much more than death.

“I’ve grieved many things in life, but I’ve grieved my marriage the longest. It’s been over five years since my divorce, and I still think about it often.”

Grief can come in all forms and walks of life.

“Although it’s been 16 years, I still find myself grieving my parents’ divorce.”

It can change and transform and change again.

“I realized I wasn’t grieving the actual separation of my parents. I was grieving the separation of my family.”

I grieve the loss of my mother, but I’ve also grieved (and, admittedly, still do) the loss of a relationship. There are no rules, boundaries or thresholds for what qualifies grief.

“We were only together for about two years, but I spent the latter half of five years grieving over this breakup—the person I thought was the love of my life.”

And many of us know grief extends far beyond humans.

“The thing I grieved most in my life was the passing of my dog. She was so young, and it made me question my own karma. I internalized it in a lot of ways.”

The loss of a loved one, human or not. A divorce, of your own or of your parents. A breakup or a heartbreak (yes, they’re different). A falling out with a friend. A life you expected to go a certain way but did not.

“To me, grief is allowing yourself to mourn what you thought was meant to be, what once was, but what will never come to fruition.”

So, what do you do? How do you take your grief—no matter what it stems from or how long it impacts you—and use it to create more happiness? How do you take what once was and use it to create more moments of gratitude, more moments of peace, of hope, of love and of life?  

“You have to rewrite it. Change the way you see your future, while still remembering the past, remembering that love and realizing your view will change—now, and over and over again.”

The thing about grief is that it’s rooted in love—true, deep, profound love that anchors in your heart and finds a home in your soul.

“The energy that was created will never die. It’s within you. It’s what you put out into the world with every breath you take. It’s forever.”

And how fortunate are we to know such love?

“That the pain you still feel your heart—that feeling of your heart breaking—that’s the love mom had for us. It’s her love rushing into your heart with such force you can feel it shatter. It’s healing, in a way.”

Ten years ago today I lost my mom.

My life did not turn out the way I hoped.

My mom did not attend my college graduation. She never got to meet the love of my life. She didn’t get to congratulate me on career milestones or making some of my biggest dreams come true. I don’t get to call her when I have a bad day at work or a falling out with a friend or when I just need someone to tell me they love me, unconditionally, forever and always.

And my life won’t turn out the way I hoped.

My mom won’t sit in the front row of my wedding and dance with me to “Mustang Sally.” She won’t hold my hand as I give birth to my first child or help guide me as I navigate motherhood. She won’t call me after a big work event or congratulate me on continuing to make my dreams come true. She won’t grow old with my dad. She won’t grow old with me.

But how fortunate am I to have known a love so deep?

And that’s the thing about grief.

PS: A special and love-filled moment of gratitude for all who participated in this blog. Featured or not, you inspired me. You made me think, and you made me feel. You are amazing. I love you. You have a very special place in my heart.

2 thoughts on “The Thing About Grief

  1. Michele Wing says:

    Beautiful Kendall you’ve done it again. Thank you for being so raw and fearless. Your writing touches my heart. Love you always my other


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s