Grief Bombs

If you follow me on Twitter, you may remember that I lost a young friend to cancer several weeks ago. She had just turned twenty and had been fighting a rare cancer for about a year and a half. When the cancer was first diagnosed, she was extremely sick and we thought we were going to lose her right then. But gradually, against all odds, the treatment started working. Then suddenly, in the space of a month, the cancer just exploded in her body. She knew for about six months that she would not get better. Yet she never ceased to be completely gracious and peaceful in the face of death. After she died, I considered writing a post about “owning” grief. She was a friend; I had known her since she was very young and we had served together on the worship team at church for a couple of years (she was an incredible violinist). But we weren’t best friends or anything. Did I have any right to really grieve?

I realized after a time that, although we weren’t joined at the hip, it was okay to be sad this sweet girl wouldn’t be in my life any more. I feel a general sadness at her absence, especially when I see her family, but it’s not acute like it would be had we been super close.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Something about the minor key is so hauntingly beautiful to me. While researching different versions of this song to sing it for church this season, I came across this one. It’s fun, different, and right up our alley. I was enjoying watching the video, trying to parse the instruments and harmonies to see if we could pull it off, when I realized that there would be one major piece missing from all of our Christmas songs this year: the violin.

Boom. Grief bomb.

All of a sudden, I was struck by her absence in my life. Struck by the sweetness and joy and beauty she offered that wouldn’t be there this year. It wasn’t there last year, either, since she was in another state for treatment. But last year, there was hope that we would have it again. We thought she was doing well, and that she’d be home for good in no time. This year, she’s just gone.

Does that ever happen to you? Are you ever just bowled over by some mundane thing in your life? Something that should mean nothing but reminds you so strongly of someone you miss that your breath and heart catch a little bit?

Another friend mentioned this very thing to me this weekend. It was her birthday on Saturday and her father’s birthday is a couple of days before her own. However, he died very suddenly earlier this year. He was a life-long prankster and she used to get him back by filling his birthday card with all of the tiny paper circles from her hole punch. As her birthday rolled around this year, she had a moment of panic, thinking she had forgotten to send him the holes. And then she remembered.

Boom. Grief bomb.

My fabulous, quirky, outspoken, ridiculous grandmother passed away on April 9, 2011. Nana was a total anglophile and had a particular fondness for and fascination with the British royal family. This was the same Nana that would hold (pretend) tea parties for us and grandly proclaim that we couldn’t be seated until we were wearing a hat of some kind. (One shouldn’t come to tea with head uncovered, don’t you know?) I think my little brother once jauntily wore a potholder on his head, just to be allowed to play along.

Three weeks after my Nana died, Prince William married Kate Middleton to much fanfare and excitement. And Nana would have loved every minute of it. Insomniac that she was, she most assuredly would have been up late enough (early enough?) to see it live. At the time that it happened, I was acutely aware of all of this among my grief. And I watched the whole extravaganza for her because she couldn’t. It made me sad (for me – I was happy for them) but I was fine with that. It was part of the process.

But yesterday, the Duke and Duchess announced they were expecting their first child. Along with the announcement came much discussion of the line of succession, titles and protocol. The very kind of discussion my grandmother would have adored (and perpetuated).

Boom. Grief bomb.

But this grief bomb fell a little softer. Was a little less surprising, maybe. It made me miss her just as much as I always do but it also made me realize something. Without these little things to crop up and sweetly remind us, we might just forget. We might forget those little pieces of the people we love that made them so singularly who they were.

As much as it can hurt, I’m glad to remember the achingly sweet sound of the violin filling the church. I’m glad my friend can remember her father’s love for laughter. I’m glad to remember the countless cups of tea and countless hours of discourse about Queen Victoria I shared with my grandmother.

Have you experienced the grief bomb? Does the collateral damage of the bomb change with your distance from and acceptance of the loss? (I’m not limiting this to death, either. I firmly believe you can grieve for a friendship that ended, a romance that didn’t work out, or for a possibility that never materialized.) I’m curious about others’ experience with this. Share if you’d like.

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6 thoughts on “Grief Bombs

  1. Yes. A million times yes. Other than the grief bombs related to the loss of our first daughter in 2009, or the death of my grandmother (Nanny) in 2003, I feel them for acquaintances, too. A man from my church passed away last Saturday, and I didn’t know him well, but he was my Facebook friend and I was, selfishly, accustomed to his daily encouraging thoughts and thankfulness as he went through and awful battle with cancer. It really hit me hard, knowing he wouldn’t be on my Facebook thread anymore, even though that seems silly when I admit it. He won’t be right in my automatic sight in his regular seat at church, won’t pray or read scripture for the congregation.

  2. Yes. Butter knives. I want to blog the long version, but the short version is that I took one of my grandfather’s butter knives. You shouldn’t get weepy over a spatula but…there it is.

    • Oh, sweetie. Yes, it’s totally normal. And it will continue to happen. BUT! It will get a bit easier. Eventually, instead of just feeling devastated, you’ll get to feel a mix of sad for the loss and glad for the memory. But for now, it’s absolutely OK to feel devastated. In fact, I encourage you to let yourself feel that way. Hugs to you.

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