Grief is sharp.
The edge of my snow shovel is not. It is so dull and useless in my effort to scrape the ice from my driveway that I end up wielding it like an ax, hacking away at the frozen surface until I am crying.
But my tears are for my beloved friend Katy who died the week before. And in these moments it feels as though if I don’t keep hitting the ice the grief will cut me in two.
Grief is an oval gelatinous organism.
It lies atop my abdomen and trembles so I can’t eat. And if I do eat, the form drains away the nourishment like a parasite, leaving me empty and bereft.
Grief is a blanket of wind.
In the minutes after I learned of Katy’s death, the cold wrapped around my insides so I was shivering even in an overheated room. In the ensuing days I would have to take long showers and sit in hot baths.
This sensation of grief is not unfamiliar. Over the years I have lost my father, a sister, friends, and walked with my son Tain through loss after the horrendous and tragic mass shootings at his school, Sandy Hook Elementary. But losing Katy has brought me to my knees. I feel driven to map out this landscape of grief, that I must come to know this place more intimately. Why? Because I’m not sure there’s a way out of it. In one way or another I will always be walking here. And right now I’m not doing a good job of it.
Months ago I wrote an essay about what I learned from my son and the natural, instinctive way he handled his grief after the shootings. I learned to ask for what I need in my grief. However in this moment, with this loss, I don’t know what to ask for. And yet I know what I want. It is simple, irrational, impossible.
I want her back.
I want the sound of her voice in swoon over what she loved in the world. I want her wide open blue eyes that knew how to absorb beauty. I want the anger that welled up as she fought her cancer. I want to tear out the pages from my prayer journals where I have sought intercession for her again and again. I want to burn these pages.
And no, this is not about a crisis of faith. I know God is present. For the record, in times like this I hear God more than I see God. I used to think it was a void I heard, a massive overwhelming silence. But now I know it is the quiet of someone waiting to listen. So I scream and cry into this quiet. I’m not afraid to throw a tantrum with God;these days I’m really giving it to the one I consider to be my Alpha and my Omega. I’m handing over my anger, confusion, and sadness. If I don’t do so the weight of it might crush me.
I know I’m not alone in such grief. In the past month alone friends have lost a wife (Katy’s husband), a brother, a child, a mother, a father, an in-law. All the more reason to know and understand what grief looks like. It will no longer be an isolated occurrence, separated by years. Grief will be a regular presence. I have to make peace with it and the bizarre, relentless way in which life goes on and I have to make breakfasts and meet writing deadlines and show up ready to speak or teach at the places that have contracted me to do so.
This is what I mean. I used to think there was no room for me to fall apart. Now I know I have to make the space or else I will explode. When I learned of Katy’s death I was traveling and preparing to give a reading that night. I could feel the sharp already cutting, my insides dissolving, the cold seeping into me. A mutual friend texted me, and though I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I called her because I’ve been told faith can be people showing up for you. I knew she would be the quiet into which I could cry and fall apart. Together we would wrap my grief into an awful misshapen package that I could hand over for a few hours until I had finished my reading and was ready to pick it up again.
But even as I hold it I know this landscape of grief is twinned with the rest of the world. There is still beauty to be seen and joy to be felt. It will be a while, though, before I feel grounded in that part of the world again. For now I will map out this landscape and perhaps dig for myself the road on which I’ll travel between these two places, back and forth, again and again, until the end of my time.
 This essay on grief is a piece is called “A Boy’s Grief” and will appear in the Spring 2018 issue of Hotel Amerika as well as her essay collection, Love’s Long Line, from Ohio State University Press/Mad Creek Books (February 2018).
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