This morning I signed on to my online bank account and it asked me the usual question to verify my identity: name of your favorite pet.
Right. The pet who we are mourning…the one I was NOT thinking about at that minute, but now I am.
It occurs to me these kind of jolts are everywhere after we lose someone or something that we dearly love. And they add a level of complexity to our grief, forcing us to make decisions that should be easy, but aren’t.
The phone number in your cell phone — when do you delete that?
Her pawprint in the snow — do you shovel around it? Let it melt? Take a picture of it?
The steel-toed boot that somehow survived the fire, although it can’t be worn again, especially since its partner booted is missing. Do you leave it? Take it and pitch it later? Consult Pinterest on how to repurpose a boot into an interesting flower pot?
They happen on a grander scale, too. Yesterday I toured the V.A. Hospital, the largest in the state of Michigan. While I was there, I decided to see if I could get my dad’s military ID number as I recently was asked for it on an application for my doctoral work. At the information desk, a woman gave me the address to the website that could help me, explaining: “you can put in a request, but of course, I don’t know when they will get to it, since the government is shut down.”
This is what we are all living through. It sometimes feels like treading water while wearing ankle weights … there is so much weight trying to pull us down and if we succumb to all of it, we won’t be able to breathe.
Which is why it’s important to remember that there are offsetting jolts too. People make jokes about killing time watching YouTube videos of kittens and children, of singing and dancing, except they aren’t really jokes. They are good medicine in a time such as this. They are on the daily list, written or envisioned, of things we each must do to cope:
- Pay bills
- Write sermon
- Watch baby animals frolic
- Mail mom’s present
- Cook the chicken
- Watch the flashmob video. Again.
There are specific things that offset the empty spaces that jolt our grief.
Behind the phone number we eventually delete are text messages we read and read and read once more.
Beneath the pawprint in the snow, the crocuses will rise come spring.
The partially burned boot-turned-planter we see matched by others just like it covering the feet of heroes of every shape and size and color who are using the space of their days to save, salvage, and rescue the remnants of the living including pets, people, and even plants and sacred spaces on land and in the water.
This is the lesson I’ve learned about loss that enables me to endure it: the empty places that jolt our grief only do so because they represent something or someone that once occupied that space that we had the privilege of loving.
Grief is the eventual cost of love. And while we all could surely do without grief … we wouldn’t stand a chance of living without love. It helps me to remember that. And also, to remember that for everyone and everything we grieve, there are just as many ones and things that are still here — limping, loving, and learning to dance. And while they cannot replace what we’ve lost, they surely help to fill the empty spaces left by love.
[Here’s a video of the flashmob marriage proposal we were in when we first moved to Ann Arbor. We come in around 1:30 in the lower left corner–I’m wearing a white hat and black and white scarf and Deb is right next to me in a grey hoodie.]