Five Things I've Learned About Grief

My Generation

Day 12 of 30 Days of Five Things: Another list that's hard to keep to five. The small moments, the photos, the waves, and more.

Published on: November 12, 2013

1. When my former roommate was killed by a drunk driver in college, her family's car broadsided by a drunk driver in a quiet rural intersection, I sat dumbfounded for months by the idea that a half a second would've made all the difference. And that our lives are not by chance. And that's what makes them worth the living.

2. The heartbreak of grief lies in the small moments they're missing. The way I know my mom, a teacher, would've loved how Caroline not only loves kindergarten but is breathlessly excited about every part of her school day. The books they would've read together. The hugs she would've given after the Ellisville plays she doesn't get to see. The twirling skirts and the football games. The cattle shows.

Image design by Erin Ehnle of Keeping it Real: Through the Lens of  Farm Girl
Image design by Erin Ehnle of Keeping it Real: Through the Lens of Farm Girl

3. My friend, Rachel, died in 2005. That didn't feel all that long ago really. And then I pulled out some of her old emails this fall, that I'd long ago printed off. We'd all used email for a decade at that point, but it's striking how much more casual our digital conversations have become since 2005. That was before Facebook, before Twitter, before we were all texters. It feels like another point in time and it makes her feel so long ago. But her voice and her laugh, those are not so long ago. I still hear them, and that is a deep comfort.

4. I have always loved to take photographs, to tell a story with a camera. And it's striking how different the stories can be. I look at photos of Rachel in college, all of us piled on a bed, laughing. Wearing (virtually) identical striped burgundy, navy and hunter green shirts, arm-in-arm at a party. With no idea of what was to come. No idea that in a few short years we would stand around her grave and sing 4-H House Loyalty. No idea. Compare that with the photos I took of my parents and brother and our whole family, just after Mom was diagnosed. She wanted photos taken and we all did our best. We smiled, mostly. But you can see the dread and the pain in every set of eyes. Still, the photographs are worth the taking.

5. A wise woman at our church once taught a Sunday School class about grief. I sat there listening, six months before Rachel died. No idea. But she spoke of grief as not something you get over, but something that comes in waves, that ebbs and flows, that you learn to live with. Not get over. And that is a practical piece of information to carry a girl through.


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