August 14, 2011

An Open Letter To Grief



Dearest Grief,

It seems as if we’ve been intimate for as long as I can remember, even though it’s only been a little over four months. I suppose this is where I should start.

I’m grateful it took so long to become acquainted with one another. Thirty-one years seems like quite a long time of living without you, especially when there is life to be considered. The possibilities for death seem endless, yet I never knew death. The reality of heartache and depression and sorrow seem almost inevitable in this life, yet I somehow managed to escape their grip. Nor have I known the pain of a life that didn’t turn out like I hoped, something I was always frightened of.

Was it simply my good fortune we haven’t met for so long? Was it my background or family or decision making? Was it a fluke?

I guess it’s neither here nor there. Everything happened and nothing happened all at once, preventing our paths from crossing, allowing my innocence and happiness to fill your absence. I suspect you were always right there, weren’t you? Waiting for me if the time came.

And then, of all the beating hearts that had to stop, it was my daughter’s.


You stretched out your hand and I didn’t accept.
I held my hands behind my back and closed my eyes.
I’m strong enough, I tell myself.

I peaked at you.
Before I could reach up, you reached down.
I lie on the ground, beaten and bruised, empty and bloody.

You flood my mind and heart, I almost drown.
Your weight is a thousand pounds, I can hardly breathe.
I can’t do this, I tell myself.

On my knees in the mud, clawing ahead, clawing together.
The mud turns to grass and then back to mud.
My knees become my feet and then I’m back to my knees.

The months go on, we trudge together through the storm.
Sometimes on my own, sometimes with K.
Sometimes with her.

Sometimes with a thousand others, with all of history, we trudge.
Sometimes I see friends, on a parallel path, with dead babies, with you, in the mud.
They whisper over to us, you are not alone.

A friend you have become, a friend you are.
You are my dark cloud and my hopeful sun.
To whatever may come, to however long we will be intimate, I reach out my hand in surrender.

15 comments:

Nerissa said...

Jack, at 31, I feel the same. My boss told me at work one day, "You're too young," while I was telling him about some of the difficulties I was having on the job. I immediately took it as, "You're too young for something so awful to happen to you." It wasn't until later on that I became angry when I realized he meant, "You're too young emotionally to be dealing with something so awful. You really need to grow up." You see, he had a lost a child 26 years ago to leukemia at the age of 18 months. I wonder if he's just forgotten how absolutely intense and raw we feel the first (forever) year. Or if he just never talked with his wife about how she had experienced (is still experiencing) her grief. Or if he's just that much of a judgmental asshole... I may never know because I have come to avoid him, the one person in the whole shop I thought I could talk to about my grief and think he would understand. He actually tried to minimize mine by saying "Mine was up and walking around for 18 months," in a so-there kind of voice. Anyway, just sharing a bit of my experience on becoming too familiar with grief at 31. Much love and peace to you and K.

Josh Jackson said...

Nerissa, I'm sorry your boss hasn't been what you expected. Nothing like someone else who lost a child minimizing your own loss.

Nika M. said...

This love-hate relationship with grief is so...overwhelming? I don't think there's any way to sum it up more accurately than you have here. I wish it was a relationship none of us had to have.


Nerissa, I wish I could punch your boss for you.

Josh Jackson said...

Nika, Thanks for your kind words. Grief is a tricky thing and something I have been trying to wrap my mind around for some time. But there is so little to understand in the early days, except that it's tricky and all consuming and something I have come to appreciate, respect and surrender to.

Molly said...

I love reading your posts for many reasons, my favorite being that you allow us to see that dads grieve just as much and feel the same things as moms. Most dads can't share their feelings as you do so it helps a lot. I wrote a similar post once about being thankful that i was able to go 32 years wihout knowing this great pain. And now we'll carry it with us for the rest of our years. :(

Alissa said...

First of all, thank you for writing this blog. It gives a voice to what a lot of people feel, but have difficulty finding the words for...

My husband's relatives had a devastating pregnancy loss about 30 years ago, and when we went through our loss, they shared the most beautiful letter with us, and I wanted to share my favorite paragraph with you:
"The ocean of grief seems boundless now, but little by little it will subside. Eventually you will be left with a smaller sorrow, and your memories. Take comfort in this: your child has left your mark. You belong to her, and she to you. This will be difficult - the outside world does not understand the loss of a child, and has even more trouble dealing with it than you. Don't expect much real understanding from others, but one day you'll meet someone who has been there and you will feel some relief in sharing."
Another beautiful thought they shared:
"It may seem sometimes as if your sorrow has many arms, reaching out to pull you back just as you think you are getting on top of it."

Again, thanks for being brave and sharing these thoughts.

Wishing you peace and gentleness...

JoyAndSorrow said...

This post is perfectly timed for me, as I was just today reflecting on how I've never knew tragedy before this. I've had loved ones die, but nothing so tragic, and like you I wonder why it never touched my life before...And why it had to come now. Great post.

Sari said...

Josh,
I love the imagery that you so profoundly allow your readers to experience. The idea of "surrendering" is usually thought of as giving up, being weak, losing... defeat. And, while we feel all of these things at some point or another during our grief journeys as bereaved parents, this kind of "surrendering" is a symbol of courage, strength, empowerment, meaning, welcoming, comfort... Because, surrendering to grief is just another way to allow our precious children to remain close to our hearts. We grasp and hold onto ANYTHING that helps us remember and honor them -- even grief. Thank you for this. I have thought about this often, but never in this way. Hugs to you, Kari, and Stella. Margot is with you - in your life, in your heart, in your soul... and in your grief.

Josh Jackson said...

Alissa, thanks for sharing part of the letter. This is a truly beautiful line: "The ocean of grief seems boundless now, but little by little it will subside. Eventually you will be left with a smaller sorrow, and your memories." The ocean has already shrunk ever so slightly...I can feel this coming true.

Anonymous said...

Another amazingly powerful post. Thank you for giving such eloquent words to emotions anyone who has experienced the loss of a child feels. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Becky said...

I agree with Molly, it is so nice to read a fathers thoughts on babyloss. I know my husband grieves but its definitely different than the way I grieve.

Mary Beth said...

"And then, of all the beating hearts that had to stop, it was my daughter's."

Oh my, yes. This line just got me. Why hers, why now, why why why a millions times why.

Sending love.

Hope's Mama said...

A post I wish I'd written. Stunning, beautiful.
I was just weeks off 29 when she died and I too had never known true pain. I had no idea how lucky I'd been up until that point. I remember sitting at her funeral thinking "I'm too young for this". I barely felt like a "grown up" yet there I was, putting my first born's tiny white coffin in the ground. That'll make anyone grow up pretty quick.
I've missed your posts. Seems as if it has been a long time between them (it probably hasn't). Goes to show how much I'm enjoying your writing, though I really wish you weren't writing here at all.
Love to you, Kari and Stella. Missing Margot.
xo

Missy said...

Such a perfect letter. I know that feeling as well having never truly met grief until Chai died. I think it makes it feel even more unfair when people you have prepared for years to die (aka grandparents) only grief finds you when someone you never could have been prepared to say goodbye to is gone. Life's a cruel bitch for sure. Love to you and yours always and remembering Margot~

Brooke said...

This is so lovely and true. I think especially the part about sometimes being alone, sometimes with others, but always with grief as a constant companion. Sometimes I rage against grief even still, but I also know it's there because it's the corollary of love. And I wouldn't take away that love to get rid of the grief, even if I could.

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