Goldilocks, Gretel & Goliath: Thoughts on Grief and Turtlenecks
I know too many people who are hurting these days. They are grappling with God and why he takes some of us away, hides someone we love like a stray sock in the hamper. Today, if you are a) hurting b) missing someone c) keeping Grief in the guest room of your house d) thinking today might be better if someone particular were sitting beside you, someone you wish hadn’t taken all your best secrets with them up to Heaven, if you are any of the above, well I wrote this for you and a woman named Kim.
These days I’m finding my way around grief.
I’ve got seven books on grief just flopping all over my bedside table because I want to learn it so badly, and still, I am stuck with this comparing of grief to a turtleneck shoved under a pristine tutu.
Though it was nearly 20 years ago, I can recall quite perfectly the invincible feeling that overwhelmed me as I sashayed around my elementary school during my first Halloween parade, hair slicked back into a knobby bun with 99 cent gel, a classical pancake of pouf fluffing out around me in Degas fashion.
And then my mother went and ruined my life. She slaughtered my ballerina status with a heinous white turtleneck that she insisted on jamming beneath my leotard, going all maternal on me and caring about my health while all I wanted to do was prance around the night in my Little Pink Tights, without a jacket or a thermal.
Tinkerbelle never got pneumoniaaaaaaaaa, mooommmmmmmmmmm. Roooooaaaarrrrrrr. I acted out my tantrum right there, in case you couldn’t tell.
Seriously though, turtlenecks beneath a leotard are no good. They make Jasmine look silly. They make ninjas look like wimpy fools. I want nothing that they have to name after a leathery, slow sea creature on my body.
They are, I imagine, how grief must feel on the chest. Uncomfortable. Lumpy. Hot. Bothering. A pain to adjust to. Sometimes strangling. Unwelcome. And you swear, everyone is focusing on the turtleneck and how unnatural it looks. The grief and how decrepit it makes you feel to the outside world.
I received an email from a woman named Kim the other day who told me first that I had changed her life. Immediately I wanted to respond and tell her there was a mistake, a typo in her email:
Dear Kim, I change shoes. I change coffee flavors. I am learning to change tires. I will change diapers, one day. But I don’t change lives. Love, Hannah.
Kim wrote that her mother passed away in January, just days after being diagnosed with lung cancer (one day soon I will write a letter to cancer, and it won’t be lovely by any means). Suddenly, holidays took on a new meaning for Kim, parts of her hollowed out.
Grief, the mighty Goliath that he is, forced himself into rooms to sit beside Kim, like a Ginormous Goldilocks sitting in Too Tiny Chairs. I am beginning to see that no matter how much of life we get “good at,” we never get good at letting Grief in as a house guest.
He’s too big. He’s too messy. He breaks plate. He’s terribly loud. He lets the cat out and it doesn’t come back. He breaks the washer and then the dryer.
It’s as if I can see him rumbling and barreling through all of Kim’s rooms, snorkeling food and knocking over fine china. Reckless, so reckless, with the memories of her mother.
Before releasing every ounce of love I could slam into the keyboard for Kim, I sat, considered how much I really do like my “a” key and my “?” key and decided to keep reading before breaking the keyboard over brokenness.
She told me that when the sympathy cards rolled in she felt this overwhelming need to thank others for their condolences. So she bought a box of cards and a pretty sheet of stamps… they sat there. Untouched.
And then she bought another box. Again. Unwritten Upon.
And then she bought another box, this time with smaller cards. Less intimidating, right? Still… untouched.
You know, I cannot quite put myself into Kim’s shoes. I don’t know grief like this, I don't know the reality where the maker of my favorite grilled cheeses and macaroni necklaces no longer calls me to see how my day is going.
The thought makes me want to look up say, "God, you's a crazy fool... you really think we can take all this?" All This Anguish. All This Turbulence. Tell me God, why did you think I could go without a Him and a Her and a She in this place?
And yet, yet, I’ve seem Him, that same Crazy Fool of a God, weave some of the most astounding healing processes out of Loss. As if he’s whispering messages to the sun and the trees and air like games of Telephone, “Tell my Little One down there that I care. I. Care. So. Much. And I won’t leave her like this. Slumped Over. Tired. Sucked Dry. Gosh, it’s killing me… but she’ll be lifted soon.”
And He uses you. And He uses me. To Get One Another to That Point of Lifting.
Kim found MoreLoveLetters.com last week, which means she found me and that is where our emailing began. She told me that recently she felt ready to let go of all the stationery, all the boxes of cardstock that no longer served a purpose now, months after the passing. And so, she plans to write love letters and leave them in memory of her mother, a woman who would have loved the project and swallowed it whole.
And here I am, unexpectedly somewhere in the middle of Kim’s encounter with the Goldilockish Grief. And suddenly we’ve got this great purpose, this Great Plan, to turn Goldilockish Grief into Gretel Grief.
A chance to sprinkle the grief like breadcrumbs to help another home. Pouring the grief into letters that another might find. Sewing and stitching the grief into pages meant for people like you to read. Telling that grief that he can stay here or there, but he cannot stay in our houses any longer.
Isn't that what they would want, sitting up there in the trees of Heaven? To look down and see us sowing something miraculous just for them? I can see them now, all the ones we've loved and lost, Too Soon & Too Quickly, singing down to us like the Whos of Whoville:
"It's quick. And it's short. And it won't promise you much. So be on your way. Be on your way today. Don't stay crying for me, I'm not afraid any longer. Don't stay sad for me, that's never what I taught you. Use me. Use the tears you have for me and sow those tears into something bigger. Something that would make me smile and tell you that I am proud. And then, and then, come back to me--after a long, long day-- and tell me every inch of it."