From Uninvited Guest to Friend

Oh, Hello Grief. Here you are, a little early.

Tomorrow would have been my brother’s 56th birthday“ another bittersweet day to celebrate without him. This will be the seventh time since he lost his way in his beloved Montana Mountains and died of hypothermia. I was hoping you wouldn’t show up this year.

That’s the thing about you. Sometimes I expect you. Other times you surprise me. If too much time passes, you simply invite yourself. At first, you validated my love for him. I was comfortable with you, for you were evidence of having loved him well. Gradually you drifted away and for brief moments I could forget you.

The tears start as I head off to my favorite coffee shop this evening to be alone in the crowd, the soothing glow of the fireplace, and the friendly low hum of background conversations. On my way, you tap on my shoulder. Please go away. My head is pounding and the tears you bring with you will only make it worse.

You insist on following me into the shop, sitting at the table across from me, a steaming cup of black coffee in hand. Won’t all that caffeine keep you awake, I ask? Strangers sitting here will see me cry. I don’t like how I look when I am crying. Sometimes on your visits, I need people, but not strangers. Not tonight. Unsurprisingly, you refuse to leave. Maybe you like the soothing glow of the fireplace and the low hum of the evening coffee shop crowd as much as I do.

I have no choice but to invite you to ride home with me. In the darkness, no one will see my tears. You follow me into the house, curl up on the other end of the couch, wrapping yourself in one of my mother’s hand-crocheted afghans and settle in for the evening. We sit together in the quietness.

The tears flow freely now in the solitude – the feeling of loss as real tonight that morning years ago, when I heard the dreadful words, “He’s gone.” When I head upstairs to bed, you are still here. Sometime during the night you quietly slip away. I am glad you leave before morning. I spend his birthday thinking how grateful I am I had him in my life, how God answered my little-girl prayer for a baby brother fifty-six years ago.

I have come to accept you as a friend who heals, the friend who seeks me out when I try to hide from you. The tears you bring are the path to healing, tears so precious to God, he collects them in a bottle.

I expect you will keep showing up. I have found it costly to deny you entry. Otherwise, you will find your way into my body and come out in harmful ways, to me and others. While I am glad you come less often, when you do, I’ll greet you, hand you an afghan and sit in your company.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the beginning, I wanted to know when grief would end because the pain was so all-encompassing. Over time, it has become apparent we are meant to be lifelong friends until we arrive at the time and place where tears are wiped away and there is no more death or dying. Those I have grieved will be with me. Grief’s work will be done, for the missing and the grieving is for those I have lost and now found.

At that long-awaited reunion, I will joyfully release her to befriend another who needs her. It will take a while for them to become friends. I wish I could tell them they will find her patient and kind, even though she will insist they pay attention to her, for embracing her is the way to peace in the losing.

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