Trying to Figure Out Grief

Grief confuses me. One year ago my father died and I understood why people say “stricken.” Although others in my life have died, this was the first time I had this overwhelming feeling of being cut down, as if a chasm had opened in my landscape. I wasn’t sure, but I thought this must be what people meant when they said “grief.” But grief is such a small word – surely this was nothing so small, so simple? Besides, my father had been ill and increasingly unhappy; he was 86 and ready to die and it would have been cruel to wish him to live any longer. So was this grief? Just that small word?

For weeks I wandered, drawn – over and over, especially around sunset – to the ocean’s edge, to what I later found the Irish call “a thin place.” I walked for hours, and wept. Surely this was grief. Yet all that time, as I walked, I had the most certain feeling that my father was with me closer – in a way – than he’d ever been in life. I had powerful connections with crows. Could I call this sense of his nearness, “grief,” when it felt so precious?

When his picture pops up on my computer’s screen saver these days, sometimes I cry, sometimes I catch my breath. And sometimes I’m filled with a peculiarly tender joy; I loved him. I love him still. I was so lucky to have him in my life for so long, to be able to reach such peace with him before he died. In the immediate aftermath of his dying, it was as if a button had been pressed and I could sense other layers to the world, a greater depth. My father died, and I became more alive. Is it okay to call that, grief?

As a writer – compulsive about writing about everything – I found it strange that until this moment, I haven’t written a word about his death except a single short poem about a crow. Is there too much grief sitting on my pen or is this a resting time, a time for retreat and thought? And is this not a good thing from time to time? Shall I thank grief?

Today I read an article on happiness by Natalie Goldberg where she told of a friend’s terrible loss of her young husband and the therapist saying, “Enjoy your grief. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.” Oddly, I understood that. So far, that’s really all I seem to understand. Grief is loss, yes, and sadness, yes, but also sweet and a whole new keen awareness. Grief is a contradiction to me and I am still confused. I keep wondering if that’s the only word. Is there a better?

Along the way, crows watch.
Crow has become a shadow companion

“shadow” in the good sense
that he’s always here –

colleague, escort, presence.
Guardian crow.

“Shadow” in the sense of

Kate B.


8 responses to “Trying to Figure Out Grief

  1. So sorry for your loss Kate. My father died almost 9 years ago, and there was an emptiness in my heart for a long time. I’m still sad when I think of his passing, but sometimes I get spurts of happy memories too. Your poem reminds me of that,

  2. raymondbolton

    Grief is such a multi-fold experience and you have captured much of it. The loss of a parent is especially profound. It was when my mother died, I first tasted my own mortality. The first time I actually cried, however, came much later. I always shared everything with her: good news and bad. One day I picked up the phone to tell her something important and realized there was no one to call.

  3. Kate, my condolences. This is a very moving post on the beauty and loss of grief. Thank you for it.

  4. Kate, I’ve been where you’re sitting and I can tell you this: grief shifts over time, takes on nuances and layers, but that sense of keen awareness is one of its greatest gifts.


  5. Well said. My grief over losing grandpa (and Grandma C.) is like a sharp pang that hits me at random moments. A smell, a sound, so many different things can trigger a memory. love you. A. xo

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  8. Another thing about grief, it brings out the best in us, our compassion for each other. Thank you all, for taking the time to read and comment.

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