Photo Courtesy of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, Montgomery County Audubon Collection, and Zebra Publishing

This post was originally written and published on February 26, 2022 via Substack.

It has been a tough week globally. My heart hurts for the people of Ukraine and every other person who will be affected by the atrocities of war. I know many of you join me in this pain.

Closer to home, my family (especially my son), friends, and community have been touched deeply by the loss of a special young man who was only eighteen, who was just getting started in life. To say it’s been a tough week locally is an understatement.

Both kinds of pain and grief are so very real.

Grief has been something that has touched us all. Especially the past two years. We’ve all hurt. No one gets to escape losing people they love as they move through life. At times, pain from these losses is unimaginable.

Something struck me after losing several beloved family members in a short period of time several years ago (and especially after losing my mother)…

Everyone deals with pain and grief differently. Some grieve outwardly, inviting comfort from family and friends. Some retreat inward and only share with those closest to them. Some react in anger, which I think we’ve all witnessed and experienced in recent months and years. Some turn to their work, anything to stay busy. Some people deny that anything is wrong and insist that they’re “Fine!” when clearly, they’re anything but. And some even attempt to respond with humor. (My brother and I spent a lot of time laughing and crying after our mother’s death.)

I am, by no means, an expert in grief. That doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced grief that hurt so badly I wasn’t sure I could continue breathing. And I’ve only ever shared the details of that grief with a very select few.

I’ve also witnessed others experience that same kind of heart wrenching grief, and had the privilege of holding their hands tightly as they processed even a piece of it.

I heard so many toxically positive “words of comfort” said to me after my mother passed away that I could write a book. The best of which was, “Well, at least you still have your father.” Which was true, but that didn’t lessen the grief I felt for not being able to hear my mother’s voice again, or have her around as my children grew up.

Like I said, we all handle grief differently.

I would never suggest that there is a right or wrong way to process pain and grief.

Unless you hurt others.

Hurting others because you’re hurting is not okay.

If you lash out at others in any way, whether it be physically, verbally, or with emotional abuse, then you probably ought to talk to someone. Using your grief as a weapon to hurt someone else is not only unhealthy, it’s cruel.

If I learned anything when my mom passed away (which was on April 2 that year, by the way, when I was in the middle of the final two weeks of working 60+ hours of a tax season as a CPA), it was the cruel lesson that despite going through my own pain and terrible time, life continued to roll right on.

The day my mom passed away was the last time the University of Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA National Championship. (Will 2022 be their year again? Here’s hoping!) The next day as my small family sat around a table to discuss how to honor my mother, people around us were gleeful over the big win! As they should have been. Our pain wasn’t their pain. And these people were our friends. I was mature enough to know that they could simultaneously process our grief and wish us well AND celebrate a victory.

As we were making funeral arrangements, I was getting phone calls from my work about clients who’s tax return I had yet to finish. Did they do this on purpose to hurt me? Of course not! The IRS didn’t give a shit about the loss of my mother. They didn’t extend the tax deadline for her.

The Sunday after my mom died was Easter, and I made the terrible mistake of going to church for Easter Sunday. I know many of you are cringing at the thought that I just said it was a mistake that I had gone to church, but it was. Everyone was so fucking happy! And I was paralyzed by my grief.

So… why this post?

As a writer, and as a human being, I like to study the human reaction to life. And the ways in which people handle grief are perplexing to me.

Watching a community come together this week to honor an eighteen year old has been, at times, devastatingly sad, and at others heart warming.

The world is beginning to mourn lives that have already been lost in an unnecessary and cruel war along with the loss of life that is yet to come. This grief is showing up in online debates, posts of prayer and well wishes, and protests.

And elsewhere, a friend of mine lost her mother this week. She posted the most beautiful tribute to her mother online. Seeing her celebrate her mother on social media in her final days was both touching and brought back memories of losing my own mother. She is processing her grief in her way. And I send her love and condolences.

Grief is a monster that we all face during our life. No one gets to escape it. This monster changes us. Sometimes only temporarily. Sometimes it changes us forever. It can bring us closer to people. We can also lose friends because of it.

I’m not sure what the lesson is in my attempt to understand grief other than I choose to embrace love and kindness when faced with grief. And if someone chooses not to accept my well wishes, or if someone doesn’t embrace love and kindness in their own grief, that’s something they’ll have to examine during their healing process.

For today, I’m going to comfort my son and his friends as they say goodbye to one of their best friends, a kind and gentle soul gone too soon. And I’m going to pray for a mother who lost one of the most important people in her life.

I’m also going to pray for those who turn toward anger and cruelty when faced with grief. I might not choose to be around that kind of behavior, but it doesn’t mean I don’t wish them relief from their pain.

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