The Language of Grief

As a mom, I have this really terrible habit of not correcting my kids when they adorably mispronounce words. If they think that sloppy joe’s are called sloppy jokes, why on earth would I correct that? If they happen to reason that multiple items of clothing are called clothes, so a single item of clothing is called “clo” then who am I to question their logic? I absolutely love when they get it wrong. Jay just learned at school about how dangerous and unhealthy it is to “smoke ciggaracists.” He is combining cigarettes and racism… two of the heavy hitters on the forbidden list in our home.

I could not correct him. Because I love it. I love when they take a guess, and stick to it, even when they are way off. So, I happily absorb their mispronounced words into my everyday vocabulary. Underwear will forever be bundies in my eyes, grown ups will always be grownies, and lasagna will be allabazoonya until the day I die. It’s just how it goes.

I think grief is similar. As a kid, grieving the loss of my brother and my parents divorce within the same year, I developed my own sort of language in a way. I told myself certain things to make sense of my family falling apart. I created ideas, however misconceived, to explain what was happening around me. These ideas, like mispronounced words, became absorbed into my language so to speak, and I find myself, even now, discovering how these words and notions have shaped me.

Some of this language is really unhealthy. For instance, I spent the majority of my life thinking that it should have been me who died that night. I was convinced of this because I admired Adam so much that I believed he would have lived a far more remarkable life than I ever could. Every B on my report card was a reminder of Adam’s straight A’s, every day after my 18th birthday felt like an affront to his memory, another day I didn’t deserve because I outlived someone who would have excelled in ways that I never would. I blamed myself for his death for a very long time. I realize how ludicrous this is now, as an adult, but as a young girl I believed that if I had only been better behaved maybe God wouldn’t have taken my family apart. I grappled with regret - the one time I told Adam that I hated him, the time I went skiing with friends instead of staying home and celebrating Adam’s very last birthday ever, and simply not telling him that he was my hero. The weight of shame for not being better, the weight of regret for not doing more, became the language of grief that I spoke to myself day after day for so many years.

But, there is another, more beautiful, side to this grief language. The side that isn’t filled with mispronounced words or complex regrets… the other dialect to this grief language is compassion. A true empath, I feel everything around me. Speaking the language of grief from such a young age has allowed me to stand in as a translator when other people couldn’t find the words to express their loss. Speaking the language of grief has allowed me to hear and understand others’ pain, sometimes before they understand it themselves. Speaking this language of mangled hearts and torn up dreams has allowed me to sit with others and simply understand.

I have had the privilege of walking beside many people in their most heart-wrenching times. For Day 12, I gave a donation to a foundation that is near to my heart because I was allowed into someone else’s grief journey. Our friend’s Pat and Megan had two beautiful twin girls who had TTTS (Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome) which is a rare condition that can occur when identical twins share a placenta. Their little girls, Zoey and Morgan were born very prematurely and fought so hard for their precious little lives. After only three months on earth, sweet Zoey passed away, leaving behind her precious twin sister and two incredible parents who would continue to remember and celebrate and honor her short life in so many beautiful ways. I also promised Pat (on Day 13) that I would not book any speaking events on the first weekend of December (which is generally a very busy time of year for me with speaking.) I solemnly swore that I would instead be at their Christmas Tree fundraiser they do each year in memory of Zoey.

zoey girl.jpg

If you live in the Rochester area, you should really consider getting your Christmas tree from them. The trees are beautiful, and the proceeds go to help other kids who are fighting for their lives. Plus, they make it super fun and festive for kids. Plus, there’s hot chocolate. And snacks. And other food. Just come, okay?

In addition to making promises, for Day 13 I spent time just thinking of, praying for and reaching out to a few people who are going through their own times of grief. Today was a day of loss and heartache for three different families I love. We are supporting them in whatever ways we are able, but even after speaking this grief language for most of my life, I still find that I have no adequate words when someone I love is in pain. So, instead, I will just sit in the hurt with them, and let them know that they are not alone. Sometimes grief is a complex language that screams mispronunciations in your head, and sometimes it’s compassion that simply demands silence.