Grief is not linear

There is no straight line from loss to what we’ll call recovery. I’d like to say “all my life I thought…” but truth is, I never even thought about grief, about loss, about what it means for everyday, what that loss does to the light, to time, to joy, to the very act of breathing, getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, how things look, feel, sound, taste.

While I have lost family members, it never occurred to me that grief as a journey isn’t a straight line. The direct loss wasn’t mine. My heart ached for the spouses left behind. Still aches for them. But it wasn’t until an entirely different circumstance introduced me to grief directly that I began to see it for what it is.

Grief stripped me of all that I thought I knew. It ripped me to the core of my being. It flipped upside down everything I thought I knew about life and loss, living and dying.

In my current journey of loss, the most recent lesson is that it is not linear. One doesn’t simply and gradually “get over it” like walking up a gradual incline. There are days when getting out of bed is an achievement. When emptying the dishwasher counts as a productive day. And while I can look back on the months between impact and today and see how things have gotten less painful, how things have changed and, for lack of better words, gotten better, I then had an experience that put me so far back on the path to healed that I’m not sure the end exists. The proverbial “two steps forward three steps back”.

In this particular case, words spoken in support and hope created turmoil. They were intended to heal, to soften a moment of history yet had the unintended result of ripping open a carefully stitched wound. To be clear, I do not hold the source responsible for the outcome. My reaction is on me alone and I hold no malice, anger or disappointment.

The results though tell the state of my heart and stage of my journey. The imagery that comes to mind is that I had just climbed out of a deep chasm. Rocky walls, damp, rough, the only way out going up, through the pain. And, standing on the edge, finally out of the depths and face turned to the light and warmth, to then have words blindside me back over the edge back into the hole like a wrecking ball into the side of a building.

My choice, once again, to remain in the pit or work, inch by inch, memory by memory, hurt by hurt back up the edge. Jesus on belay, me searching for toe holds through the threat of tears.

Grief doesn’t travel a straight line. It weaves and ducks, it leads then follows, strangles then caresses. It sneaks up like a storm on a sunny day. The tiniest scent, a flash of memory, a habitual motion, phrase or task brings a sweeping wave wiping out all forward progress, sets back days, weeks, miles, back to the bottom of the pit.

You: Vulture. Pohtaytoe: Pohtahtoh

Before you turn away in disgust, never to visit this blog again, hear me out.

God made a unique creature to fill a very specific role, a purpose only for them. He gave them a very specific collection of attributes necessary to complete their task. Often, this creature is considered unusual, unconventional. It doesn’t fit the mold, does its own thing and when it does that thing that God designed it to do, lives are saved.

While that paragraph is written around the nature of vultures, we too are uniquely created, designed for a specific role, a purpose, and have been (or will be) given the attributes, gifts and skills needed to fulfill that God assigned purpose. I rarely fit expectations or maybe I just don’t feel like I fit. But when I am actively choosing to do the things that I know God has put me in place to do, I feel like I’m soaring. My whole being knows I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. It doesn’t matter the success or failure, hurdles, hurts or challenges.

Vultures have a reputation. Ugly, vile, repulsive. They eat dead things after all. But that is their purpose. And to do that God designed them with no feathers on their heads, necks or feet so they don’t retain bacteria. They are the only birds with the sense of smell needed to locate their task and the acidity in their digestive system kills every deadly disease they consume including things that would kill you or I with only a drop.

In the heat of the day, they can see the thermals rising from the earth – those wavy lines of heat we can see only when they’re rising off the road in the summer – and using only those currents, stay aloft for hours and travel for miles without flapping their wings. Elegant, drifting, floating.

So yes. disgusting and ugh. I get it that no one wants to be compared to such a thing. But I do.

God created. Unique. Purposeful. Soaring. Elegant.

(For an excellent read about vultures and condors, try “Vultures. Nature’s Ghastly Gourmet” by Canadian author Wayne Grady)