In the month since my father-in-law died, I’ve revisited the giant parking lot of grief, the one where you can never remember where you parked or even what car you were driving at the time. What I mean by this is that grief seems to be the most unmappable of all emotions. If fear, depression, joy, boredom and other day-to-day feelings we move through are seasonal weather, grief is more like those wild card days when it can change over a long afternoon from a dainty day among to tulips to a blizzard to a thunderstorm with a small tornado on its back end.
My family, like me, tends to not act as I would imagine. Sure, there’s stretches of quiet sadness and that big gaping hole in the center of our lives, what a large meteor would leave once a large yellow crane lifted out the rock. But how grief manifests in us is variable and unchartable. My youngest son goes from characteristically chirpy to sullen and slurring his words when I ask him questions. My husband hurt his back about two weeks ago, and can’t easily shake, work, rest or walk through the pain, which recedes far slower than usual. My teenager daughter goes from one overwhelming sadness to being a cool customer. My oldest son had a long flare up of digestive issues. And I’m struggling with the draw to cozy up with some bad old habits (mostly workaholism, thank heavens there’s not chocolate in the house) that just die hard.
Meanwhile, nothing seems to have changed. Meanwhile, everything has changed. Through it all, I know two opposite things to be simultaneously true: this is a huge loss, and as Theodore Roethke wrote, “What falls away is always, and is near.”