The Manifestations of Grief

Grief manifests differently in each person.

My mother, whenever she encountered death up close, in a loved one for instance, shrieked. Long, ragged screams erupted from her 4'11'' frame and staggered me. It was terrifying as a child to see her convulsing in the sorrow that spilled out of her in uncontrollable waves. Even back then I knew that I would never want others to see me grieving. Expression of grief made me self-conscious. It took me away from my immersion in the boundless ocean of melancholy, disturbed the sanctity of my feelings.

I have become full of conflicts as an adult. I have a public blog in which I write about motherhood, challenges, triumphs, failures. I fight loudly and belligerently for everything I believe in. My anger lurks like a beast just under my skin. Sometimes, in circumstances rife with argument, it pounces, eyes wide, the whites showing a little too much, voice snarly, hands gesticulating wildly to make a point. Or, I shut down, distance myself, and sometimes even physically remove myself from the vicinity of the source of my agitation. My anger becomes a cold, hardened thing. My responses to gibes are amused smirks, a slight shake of the head, a look that says, "Come on, don't embarrass yourself," but I say no words whatsoever.

Conversely, and counter-intuitively, I am intensely private about my grief of any magnitude. I cry in solitude, and if my control lapses in moments of weakness among friends, I feel like I am drowning. I put a leash around the act of crying. My throat tightens with the effort it takes to keep my face normal, serious, lips pinched. My eyes fill up again and again, but my voice does not waver. I don't let it. Sobbing is for later, saved and savored like a prayer.

This is why when something happens that warrants sadness, I go about my day quietly, and those who know me best keep saying, "You're upset, aren't you?" "You're sad." "You don't feel like talking." I never lie. I keep my eyes on the task at hand, dinner on the stove, dishes in the sink, a poem on the computer. I think about lost time, hug my baby for comfort, write a poem or two, deal with it the only way I know how - by telling myself I will only cry when I am perfectly alone, so I can give myself up entirely to the act of grieving and be done with it, once and for all. And of course, I never really am alone, mired as I am in the ordinary details of being alive. All the while, silently, my grief evolves. It starts as a seed of discontent and never stops growing. It germinates. It writhes its way into becoming a plant. It flowers. It blooms. It bears fruit.

Then one day, just like that, when I least suspect it, the fruit ripens, and I am suddenly very aware of it. I am at my desk, sipping my third cup of coffee during the lazy hours of an unremarkable afternoon when my grief grips me from the inside, clawing its way out. I am shaken by its force, its demand to be acknowledged, recognized, celebrated. It happens in the most unremarkable way. An email pops up in my inbox about a charity set up by the parents of a 1-year-old baby who died unexpectedly. It is the manifestation of someone else's mourning, a family I hadn't known before this moment, but their story becomes a fierce tempest and my carefully contained grief sways maniacally, this way and that, until it is uprooted, escaping out of me. I fight it for a few seconds. I try to control my face as it effortlessly contorts with an unexpected sob, but even as I take in large gulps of air, I know that it's time, I must give in.

So, it happens unceremoniously and not at all in the way I imagined. It is not an act of worship, it doesn't happen in a temple. Instead, I have run to the restroom and locked myself in one of the stalls. My body is ravaged with the force of my sobs. This sudden release is shocking. I lean my head against the cool walls of the stall and let my grief, ripened and ready, lead me away.

It's alright to give in, I tell myself. It's alright to never forget those for whom I grieve.