“Grief is just love with no place to go.”
This definition by Jamie Anderson feels true but not entirely true, because grief is often mingled with other things.
Though it has no expiration date, we all know someone whose grief has ripened to self-pity. Grief laced with regret or despair can ruin a life and spoil good memories. Grief infected with bitterness festers like a canker.
But I’ve never known grief as pure as that for my niece Paislee who was born last February at 24 weeks and passed away four days later. There’s no bitterness, no pity, no regret, no despair tainting the grief—just the cavernous loss of all we had hoped for.
Grief is most often the loss of what you had, but sometimes it’s the loss of what you weren’t able to have.
Grief is the price we pay for love. (1)
C.S. Lewis, a man who knew something about grief and even wrote a book about it, said, “Grief is not a state but a process like a walk in a winding valley with a new prospect at every bend.”
Last summer, on an evening walk, Laura and I found a baby bat sprawled out dead on the blacktop, his pink skin still hairless. Bat pups hold on while their mothers fly. Best as I can figure, he fell off her back sometime the night before.
It doesn’t go away; it just visits every once in a while.
After Paislee died, my parents went in to hold her for the first time free of the tubes and wires. In the pictures, her little mouth gaped open, stiff from the intubation tube.
The bat pup’s mouth gaped open too, in such a strange way reminding me of Paislee, reminding me that grief is just around the corner. It doesn’t go away; it just visits every once in a while to remind us of life and death and love.
Grief is a bruise, soothing to press and to feel the throb of love that responds, to sense Paislee’s absence, perhaps even more deeply than we sensed her presence.
Grief is, as Lewis said, a journey, a winding path with reminders in the strangest places.
Grief is blunt and cold like the February wind chilling the graveside service at a hillside cemetery, but it’s also the embrace of friends who gathered on a workday bearing borrowed sorrow for a child they hadn’t known.
Grief is a knitted cream cap, not large enough to stretch over my fist, and a father carrying an unfathomably small casket to its resting place. Grief is a potted pink tulip on my desk from a coworker whose name I didn’t yet know. In memory of your niece.
Grief is my mother’s quivering voice on the phone saying, “She’s gone,” and the old gospel song “He Giveth More Grace” that played on Pandora only minutes after. His love has no limits/His grace has no measure;/His power no boundary known unto men./For out of his infinite riches in Jesus/He giveth and giveth and giveth again.
Grief is the taste of salt and tears, and grief is the taste of peanut butter cake.
Grief is food and the hands that prepared it.
When someone dies in the South, people start baking. The answer to death is a hot oven or a quick run to the grocery store; the solution to grief is potato salad and brownies.
Grief is the taste of peanut butter cake.
As if knowing that our heart will stop, other people step in to keep our stomach going. Maybe it’s their distraction from the grief. Maybe they just don’t know what else to do.
The day after Paislee passed away, I drove down to South Carolina to be with my family. When I arrived at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, the table and counters and fridge bore the signs of Southern grief management, of breads, casseroles, cookies, fruit, meats, candies, sweet tea, and a peanut butter sheet cake, the likes of which I’d never eaten.
It’s that cake I remember most about those days of receiving guests and comfort. The moistness gave us something to talk about, to gather around and share. Its sweetness cut the bitter, like grace on a plate.
Grief is sorrow, but not without comfort, not without hope.
Grief is to reappraise our hope for eternity, to reaffirm our faith in Christ.
At Paislee’s graveside service, we released pink balloons, watched them climb to the atmosphere and float over the mountains like pink prayers. Who knows where they landed.
Grief is to know heaven more deeply, but to know we aren’t there yet.
For now, grief is—
But some day no more.
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Author’s Note: Scripture references that I allude to are I Thessalonians 4:13 and Revelations 21:4.
(1) Attributed to Queen Elizabeth II, though, as quotes go, it’s hard to say where the quote actually originated.