The church service had just begun and the congregation and guests were greeting one another. A friend, who knew four of my family members died in 2007, approached me and asked, “How are you?”
“I’m good,” I replied. “How are you?”
Widowed a year ago, my friend replied, “Oh, I’ve found that grief hides. When you think it’s gone, you find yourself crying.”
I understood her comment. After losing my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law, there have been many times when grief reached out and grabbed me. These moments happen without warning and take me by surprise.
I expect to grieve on my deceased daughter’s birthday and I do. I expect to grieve on the 23rd of the month, the day she died, and I do. I expect to grieve on the anniversary of my father-in-law’s death, and brother’s death, and I do. But I didn’t expect to play hide and seek with grief.
The unpredictable moments of sorrow make me seek the causes. What triggered my grief? Could I have prevented it? Is there more grief work to do? “Grief hides,” as my friend put it so clearly, and I’ve found that it hides in the nooks and crannies of life.
Sometimes, when my granddaughter speaks just like her mother used to, I feel renewed grief. I feel joy as well. When I see someone using a walker, I’m reminded of my father-in law, and I grieve. My brother loved books and I volunteer at the library in his memory. Last week, without any warning, I felt a wave of sadness at his passing.
For someone like me, who has suffered multiple losses, there are many games of hide and seek. Some mourners have a different approach to the game and try to hide or suppress their emotions. But hiding from emotions only prolongs grief. Thankfully, I’ve always been honest with my feelings.
If I’m grouchy or feel down, give me an hour, and I can tell you why. As I grow older, I appreciate this personality trait more and more. I also appreciate my ability to identify gut feelings.
Daniel Goleman writes about gut feelings in his book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ.” According to Goleman, being able to identify gut feelings has advantages. This ability gives us the chance to “immediately drop or pursue” different paths with confidence and “pare down our choices.”
Nearly four years have passed since my daughter died. Of the four deaths, hers was the most painful. Despite the pain, I have learned from it and one of the things I learned was to accept the hide-and-seek nature of grief. I accept my feelings and move on. You see, I’m a lucky woman.
My multiple losses reminded me of the miracle of life. So I’m putting the hide-and-seek nature of grief on notice: You may surprise me, but you will not defeat me. Happiness is mine, to savor each day and to share.
Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson