My mother-in-law passed away last weekend. Her death was sudden and unexpected, though she had been ill for six years, trapped in a body and mind that incrementally deteriorated to the point that she was immobile, and spent portions of her days wondering where she was and wandering in thought to her childhood. She was tended to lovingly and faithfully at home by my father-in-law. Her death leaves a large void in our family.
As we have passed through this week, I have thought a great deal about grief – about the process and the ways in which we express and internalize our grief. I have grieved for my mother-in-law for years now, as the woman we knew slowly slipped away from us – in the final year or two her place was empty at our celebrations because it had become too difficult and painful for her to be moved from place to place, and the chatter and bustle around her was disorienting and disturbing to her. She was the matriarch of our family, and celebrations without her were touched with sadness for me.
Now, though, we are dealing with the grief that comes with the finality of death. And, we each must deal with this grief in our own way. The words of comfort from loved ones and friends are behind us now, and we settle back into daily life with a long journey of personal grieving ahead of us all.
In my experience, I have found that every person grieves in his own unique way. There are people who cry openly and inconsolably, and those with a stoicism that does not allow tears. Some talk about the loss of their loved one to everyone who will listen; others find it difficult to talk at all. My grief tends to be a private grief. I dread the wake and the funeral, because talking about the person I loved brings tears and sorrow – although I appreciate the comfort of hugs and love, I prefer to grieve quietly. In fact, after my parents died, I couldn’t even talk about them for months without tears, so I held them closely in my heart and carried on with daily life. I strongly believe that I will be reunited with those that I love some day, and this makes my grief easier to bear.
Grief is cumulative -- once the devastating emotions of fresh grief have softened, we carry the remnants of grief with us forever. Years later, a memory or a lyric from a song can once more release fresh tears of loss. We don’t stop loving, and we really never “complete” the grieving process. We carry the love and the memories in our hearts forever; our family gatherings bring new faces and new love, but the empty chairs are always there in our hearts. We don’t forget – we move on and live our lives – lives that are richer for the knowing and loving of those we’ve lost. They are always a part of us and their love still enfolds us. And the grief that was unbearably painful finds a quiet place in our hearts to linger gently forever.