Many voices speak of hope in the unseen, comfort in the broken places, and light in the piercing dark. Today my Story Sessions friend, Leigha, is talking about friendship, loss, and pressing in to grief. If your heart is weary, may you be encouraged as you read her words. They are powerful testimony on the resilience of the human spirit, and I am honored to share her healing words in this space.
The week before I moved to Montreal to start grad school, I took a road trip. I called in sick to work, packed a bag, and I drove for 6 hours. For 6 hours I conjured up the cool feel of granite beneath my fingertips. For 6 hours I practiced tracing all 22 letters of her name. It had been 3 months and 4 days since I had made the same trek to say goodbye to Victoria.
Victoria and I met as teenagers at a youth convention. Years later we ended up in the same degree program at university. It wasn’t long after our reunion that we were rearranging our schedules to make sure we were in all the same classes. Group project? We had it covered. Almost every paper of my undergrad was written sitting across the table from her. There was a Tuesday morning one October when she convinced me (or I convinced her) that getting bacon was more important than a research methods lecture and we walked out in the middle of a class to find the nearest brunch establishment. We knew how to have fun. But we also had dreams and plans. We were so excited for graduation and for life afterwards. We filled out grad school applications together. Looked at apartments together. Checked the train routs to plan weekend getaways. In the weeks between the end of classes and our convocation ceremony, I flew to the Dominican Republic and she went home to see her family. The night I came home, Victoria died, just a handful of days before we would have graduated together.
When I arrived at the graveside that late summer day, there was no monument. No elaborate marker for a life well lived. No names or dates or verses to read like braille. Someone told me that they wait to put a headstone, that it takes six months for the ground to settle. I wondered if my heart would calm as quickly. Its been 9 months. It hasn’t.
I’m writing this while sitting in my one bedroom apartment in Montreal. I live alone. I write my papers by myself. I never cut class in favour of brunch. Those trips we planned I have taken by myself. In seven months I will don another gown, I will walk across another stage that she won’t. It sucks.
I know I will see Victoria again. But I miss her today. I will get up from this chair and go to class and work on a presentation and have coffee with some classmates and come back to this apartment and live my life and miss her.
One of my favourite children’s books tells the story of a little boy who was given a beautiful blanket from his grandfather. He tore the blanket and his grandfather refashioned it into a jacket, the jacket got soiled so the grandfather repurposed it as a vest, then a kerchief, then a tie. The story continues until this gift, this prized possession is transformed into a button. The size and shape of the gift changed. But its value and significance did not. Grief is like that. Eventually it stops becoming the blanket we wrap ourselves in, that we drag behind us in the dust. We don’t cover our heads with it, or pin it to our breast. Eventually it becomes smaller, smoother, like a button we can slip into our pocket, to unobtrusively carry with us. It’s still there. The grief is just as real. We just wear it differently.
Pressing in, pressing on, has nothing to do with moving on. Or getting over. It’s acknowledging the heavy weight of grief, and living my life anyway. Of getting up every day, anyway. Of pressing on anyway. Pressing in to grief is accepting the ache, accepting the chasm left by death. Pressing in is learning the tune of keening, embracing grief in all its elements, leaning to sing the “mourning song”. It is practicing lament. Pressing in is naming the absence holy.
Like the shards of rocks that dig into bent knees at a graveside, grief has a way of pressing into you. But I’m pressing right back.
Leigha is a recovering Sunday school scholar who is learning to embrace questions without answers. Her bravest and most honest questions usually come in the form of poetry. An MSW candidate and lover of words, she believes in the power of narratives, both the personal and the collective. Leigha writes her words and lives her life on the East Coast of Canada. You can find more of her writing at leighacann.com and connect with her on twitter @leighacann.