These days, we measure out our grief like it's a newborn: counting the days and weeks.
"Oh, look at your new grief! How old?"
"Two weeks and three days, so, you know, still really new." So new it still has that horrible newborn acne that makes you cringe a little. So new it still startles you awake at night or corners you in the bathroom with waves of exhaustion, catching you out when you just want a moment of quiet. But when people ask, you smile and nod and say, "I'm getting by." You pretend it's OK. And those who have been here before, who have cradled their grief for a time, they know better. They know you're OK until you're not and then there's nothing you can do about it but wait for the impossible to pass.
Today we gathered in a huge celebration to honor my Aunt, my other-mother. The church was packed. The church, by the way, she was baptized in. The church, by the way, where she went to elementary school. The church, by the way, she was married in. The church, by the way, where she lived her splendid, full, outrageously beautiful, spiritual life. I couldn't walk two feet in that church without someone reaching out with their own grief, she touched so many souls. I lean down and ask my uncle if he wants some tissues for the service and he says, "We're not going to do that. We're going to cry, unabashed, open-faced. I'm not wiping it away."
The mass starts and there is heart wrenching music, but I don't find myself folding. Her grandson sings a solo, "You Raise Me Up" and as his voice breaks out over the crowd I turn to my friend at my side and say, "Are you kidding me?" He's so amazing that I want to fall apart right here, in this moment, but I turn to his mom in the pew in front of me and watch her face, lit up with joy at her son and his musical confidence. She's nodding and beaming and saying, "That's my boy!" and I find myself beaming along with her.
I watch others pull apart and I go through the motions of the service. We stand, we sit, we turn to the Songbook, number 564, "Hail Mary: Gentle Woman", we litter the pews with tissues and suffer the breaks in the voice of her priest, someone who loved her like we did. There is laughter, too. She gets called naughty by a chuckling priest and the room goes nuts. "I'm not even breaking the sanctity of the confessional by saying that!" And we all nod and laugh, because we all knew about her wicked side. All of this and I hold myself together, feeling like I'm going to get out of this alive. Maybe.
It's not until the very end, when the incense winds around the box containing her ashes and the priest talks of her spirit rising to heaven like the smoke. That's when I I feel something crack in me. And I don't even believe that whole spirit thing but suddenly my insides don't feel right. Moments later, the church erupts in a spirited rendition of "de Colores" and that's when everything in me cuts loose. In the hand clapping, stomping wildness of the song, sung loudly and passionately by hundreds of people, I am suddenly wailing. I sob with eyes squeezed shut and body shaking and in the noise of the song, only my daughters and my friend next to me hear. They wrap arms around me and I sink to the bench, gasping for air. Of all the moments, it's now? When voices are raised in joyful song? Before I know what's happening, I am laughing and sobbing and hiccuping in what little breath I can gather, a mess and a joy and a big open wound, all at once.
This grief is precious. It's only two weeks and three days old. It is unpredictable. I don't know it yet, not in the way I will years from now. I can't yet anticipate it's mood. It still needs protection and respect and constant attention. It has demands and there is nothing I can do but try to meet them, like a brand new mom in a hands-on, crash course of parenting.
See the joy in all things.
Open up the painful parts.
Close up in a ball, crouched in the corner.
Be a mess.
Act totally normal, you freak.
But just a little, because I'm not done with you yet.
It's just how it works.