Recently, two of my friends have lost close family members. As I sit by and watch them mourn in very different ways, I’ve been thinking a lot about grief.
Grief is a sticky thing.
Sticky in the sense that it is stick-like. Long and pointy, Jabbing at you in the most sensitive places, beating you over the head. Grief speaks softly and carries a big stick.
Sticky in the sense that it sticks to you, covers you like you’ve been tarred and feathered, and it sinks into your pores. It sticks to your ribs like a cement bowl of oatmeal, hanging around on your insides, making you slow and tired. Later, it’s like the gum on the bottom of your shoes, coming along when you least expect it to foul up your day. It’s like a gelatinous goo, clinging to you in stubborn stringy bits, refusing to let you go, holding you down, taking all the space in your mind, and snapping you back into place when you manage to free yourself a little. When people try to get close to you, it glues their feet down too.
And grief is sticky in the sense that nobody knows what to do about it. It is a sticky situation for those of us standing by, watching our friend or family member get stuck in the quagmire. Nothing we can say will clear the stickiness away. There’s no Goo-Be-Gone for grief. Some people think Xanax works like that, but it doesn’t. We can’t clear it away in a day or a week or a month or maybe ever. We try to navigate through the mess, try to say helpful things or do helpful things. So often, the grief throws it back at us. Sometimes it throws it back in anger. Unfortunately, in this case, nothing seems to stick.
So what can we do when faced with the tenacity of grief? What can we do while our loved one sinks in the muck that clings to them like suffocating syrup? Sometimes all we can do is let it hang around, let it wear itself out, let it lose its power as time goes by. It’s not a satisfactory answer.
In the meantime, we wait it out. We say kind things, we bring food, we sit in silence, we sit through rage, we say things that are hard, we wring our hands over the right thing to do, we sigh and wonder when this will end. We know it doesn’t actually end. But we wait for the new normal to start, to ooze up through the cracks.
We stick it out.