A Beautiful Way to Think About Death and Grieving

The analogy that helped even at my lowest low.
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There was a moment, a few days after my grandmother's death last month, when I thought I was done crying. I’d been such a wreck that entire month leading up to it, with back to back trips to see her, each time leaving me feeling empty and broken. And the moment I knew, with complete certainty, that I was saying goodbye to her for the very last time. I told her I loved her and that I'd see her again. I knew it wouldn't be in the same capacity as it'd always been, but I believed (and now understand) it to be true. But man. For someone who constantly craves being in control and knowing what's going to happen, it gave me no solace. And at night, it's those last words we exchanged that have a tendency to rip me open the most. 

When I arrived at the office after taking a few days off for the funeral, I certainly didn't feel like my normal self, but was also no longer torn open by grief. I was ready to get back into my routine and not just remain this blubbering pile of tears. After all, as one friend put it (which did help me maintain some perspective), what happened "is incredibly sad, but not tragic." But when I started talking about the funeral, I began to cry. I cried later that day when my mom called, the next evening when I couldn't fall asleep, and pretty much anytime I'm alone. It's such a conflicting feeling - knowing I need to be strong and present in my daily life, but still have this gaping hole. The idea that she's no longer in this world still feels almost too overwhelming to comprehend. 

When I shared the news of my grandmother's death on Instagram, I was so moved by all of the comments, suggestions, and advice I received from countless people. But there was one piece of advice that felt so simple, I could comprehend it even at my lowest low. The idea, explained here in a Tweet, is this: 

When someone passes, your mind becomes a box with two things inside: a ball and a pain button. In the beginning, the ball is huge and takes up the whole box, steadily pushing on the pain button. Overtime, the ball shrinks, but the pain button doesn't. As you go about your day, the pain is still there, but it isn't until the ball hits it again that the grief comes flooding back. The ball never goes away entirely, but it does shrink until it hits the pain button less and less often. 

In the days, then weeks, then month after my grandmother's death, I was torn between wanting the pain to go away, and not having her memory and legacy to go with it. The fact that my grief was starting to fade made me almost cling to it, and her. But here's the thing: That "pain button" never goes away after a death. It's just the ball that triggers it—a fleeting memory, a smell—that hit it less and less. 

Now, when I feel grief, I try to remember that my pain button was "hit," and that it will pass—and that's okay too. It's also given me a new way of looking at the mourning process, knowing it shifts over time, but never fully subsides. And also that there are days when I don't feel overcome with sadness, it doesn't mean her life, and impact on me, has any less significance. In fact, in a lot of ways, I feel closer to her than I have in a while. These past two years she hadn't been the woman I'd known for the previous three decades of my life. And that had simply become her new normal. But it's now, in the moments by myself, on walks, and while holding Sloan, that the good memories come flooding back. The ones I'd forgotten or hadn't realized their impact at the time - and it's such an incredible gift. Grief is a tricky thing to navigate, but my hope in sharing this is that the analogy helps you, or a friend, as much as it has me. x