It was a peculiar day, a brooding fall afternoon rich with the subtle smell of distant winter. I recognized it instantly, unreserved and distinct, curiously appealing and acutely detestable. It was no more than a momentary and fleeting impression, but somewhere in the potpourri of scorched wood and damp leaves was a sheath of memories, marked with the faint and musty undertones of grief. There are times that I recognize it immediately, the fragrance of loss. The bitter smell of my children’s vomit, the salty taste of their tears and on this curious day, the fragrance of the harshest winter – absolute and unmistakable. It lasts for a scarce minute or two, long enough to interrupt my forward motion, and then, just as suddenly as it appears, it is gone and I can breathe.
Loss is not linear.
Grief is not a straight line.
It is muddled, unpredictable and unconfined by time and space. Grief is not a science and it will not be ignored indefinitely. You cannot circumvent grief, it does not forget. It appears in intervals, in multiplicity, in ways that confound us.
But everyone who grieves will wake one morning to the reality of a good night’s sleep, surprised by the sincerity of his or her laughter as the edge begins to dull and the mournful song changes key. The unyielding emotions no longer define my days and hours, but I welcome their appearance from time to time with the acknowledgement that none of us are all shadow or sun. Grief honors those who accept its presence, those whose hearts contract with remembered loss. Grief embraces us, taking us to places we would never go otherwise, and grace enables the clarification of purpose and the rediscovery of the present, for many things of blessing and beauty are born of grief and ashes.
This is grace, the belief that however agonizing our loss, life remains fundamentally good. It has been almost two years now since the harshest winter, and the empty chair at the table remains. But as much as I expected for pain to stay and to inform my days, I have found its reach to be waning. To those whose grief is new and raw, I too remember those moments that robbed me of breath and left me longing for anything to occupy the hollow places. But those moments are fewer now and the empty is familiar. The dark greys that muted my world are fading and color is returning, for even on days when the light is veiled grace reminds me that the sun has not disappeared forever. The empty is less empty, the jagged edges have been dulled by time, and the ache is only subtle, even sweet as we find joy in remembering.
The experience of loss is transformative. It is not confined to simple modifications or adjustments, it is revelatory. Grief is not temporary but neither does it define us, for it is not what happens to us that shapes and distinguishes, it is what happens in us. To nurture the emptiness is to awaken courage in the most unlikely places until life flows curiously and passionately with the rhythms of grace. The reality of humanity assures that we will all find ourselves stuck on occasion in the ebbs and flows, but forward is the intention of life.