Although it didn’t take me long to realize that the “freedoms” of adulthood are just good marketing for the endless responsibilities that marriage, parenthood, and business ownership entail, most of the time I’m glad I traded the true freedom of my youth to take on the life that suits me.
But of course, there are moments like this morning, when I lay in tear soaked sheets, with the sky pressing down on my rib cage, and longed to return to that uncomplicated youth. For me, that “time” is marked as clearly as the line defining Mountain Standard Time, though it is a date: pre-August 27, 2004, the day my youngest brother, Howard, died.
In the nine years since, I’ve spoken marriage vows under the Big Sky, laid a treasured grandpa to rest, given birth to two fascinating children, stood on top of Little Chief and wondered how the heck I would get down, frosted birthday cakes and chilled champagne to honor those I love who live still, experienced the magic that I think comes only with old friends, a blazing fire, and a guitar, and endured a pregnancy wherein every day I wondered if my baby had suffered a brain hemorrhage, and if I had been too selfish in wanting to give Maggie Rose a sibling.
Enormous highs, black lows, indeed, in these nine years.
There was a time in the immediate whiteout following Howard’s death that I feared I would never feel deeply again. There was an even deeper fear on certain nights at 3am that I didn’t want to ever feel so alive again, that to insulate myself from future heartbreak was perhaps the path I should take. Howard’s death crystallized the knowledge for me that to revel in joy, you’ve got to wallow in grief, too, and in that realization I remembered the only thing I retained from 7th grade science class: every action in nature has an equal and opposite reaction.
I think I’m reflecting on these concepts not only because August 27th is an emotional date for me, but because I have dear friends who are new to the rage and terror of grief, and I long to rescue them. Of course I cannot, and I know that to be able to feel those highs and lows again, a griever must get herself back on the so called path. Friends will offer wine, and prose, and at times, a much needed glimpse at a map, but there is no substitution for the hard work of grieving.
It is worth it, though, and as I look back on the fuzzy years after Howard’s death, years that became clearer with each emotional risk I took — a new boyfriend, a move, a breakup, a career, a husband, another move, children — I will stand by the advice my mother once offered to me: go on. It is worth it. And though each anniversary will forever torture me with unanswered questions like the temperament of the wife Howard would have chosen, and the colors of his children’s eyes, I try each year to stop the tears and also acknowledge to myself new risks I have taken, and the new joys I have found.
I know that Howard would be proud that I’ve learned to look potential heartbreak in the eye while going on. To those whose hearts are broken, I urge you to be brave, and to take comfort in the idea that grief this debilitating can lead you to its opposite in joy, if only you’ll keep walking.
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