Riding the Grief Wave

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My hand grabs a heavy plastic bag as I reach to the very back of the closet. I couldn’t place it at first, and then my heart wrenches when I see the blue sweater. Justin’s sweater, and a blue polo shirt that I had carefully saved from his belongings. His sweet scent and the faint smell of his laundry detergent have clung to the fibers from when they were first returned. I sink to the floor burying my head in his sweater, sobbing and breathing in his scent, cradling it close to my heart. I washed all his clothes except for these few things. A soft blue cotton sweater that was his favorite, and a blue polo shirt that he often wore to church.

I pause, I am not prepared to deal with a grief wave today. I was purging the house, filling bags and boxes of excess, needing to be liberated from possessions. I had no memory of placing these items in the plastic bag and sealing them, no memory of stuffing them in the very back of my closet. Longing for my Justin, our eldest son washed over me. I open the bag and pull out the sweater, still so soft as I smoothed out the wrinkles, I hold it up to my face, and breathed in as deep as I can. I catch the faint elusive smell of my child gone. I grabbed the polo shirt and it too, ever so faintly, still carried his scent. Memories of laughing eyes and dark curls filled my head and I hugged his clothes even tighter, rocking back and forth.

Mounds of tissues had built up beside me, my sobbing had left my glasses a mess and I reached for even more tissues. My tears had left spots on clothes that I had held so tightly. I notice that the bag has been chewed, I know the culprits. Justin’s cats must have wandered into my closet and driven by the same desire, chewed their way to his scent. How those cats adored Justin. Sweaters, cats, a good book, and a pot tea, and Justin was the most contented of souls.

I carefully smooth out his sweater and shirt and fold them neatly. I go looking for a fresh bag and trip over the dog who is worried that I am crying. I get a big furry hug and dodge his tongue as he tries to lick away my tears. I find myself laughing. Then frustrated because I can’t find the storage bags, and then I laugh again because they are literally in front of my face on the pantry shelf. I carefully tuck those precious bundles in a new bag and place them carefully back in the same corner, no longer crying, but with a wistful smile.

Grief waves are exhausting and I brew a pot of tea. Grief leaves the senses heightened, like skin that has been rubbed raw, I find myself vulnerable to hurt, but also a new sensitivity for beauty and small joys. My hands take note of the tea warming the porcelain cup and I am grateful for the friend who gifted me with the cheerful, delicate mug with butterflies dancing across its handle. I slip my sandal off and rub my foot on the warm fur of my good friend who has laid across my feet sighing. My breathing has slowed and I sigh with the dog. The wave has crashed over me, memories have tumbled like shells and sand, but now the water is still again. Unleashed tears bring cleansing and peace, the pain does not fester, but flows out with each tear. My heart that grieves and my heart that lives are one in the same. My child gone is woven into my heart for all eternity, for as long as I breathe, so too will his memories. Love never dies.

I pour a second cup of tea and breathe.

Terri Jackson

Terri Jackson is a writer, wife, and mother of two sons. Her oldest son, Justin, was killed in a vehicle accident September 27, 2010. Terri and her husband, Doug, have been married for over thirty years, her blog tells the story of their struggles, tears, and the joy and humor of learning to live again after the unthinkable happens. She has been published in We Need Not Walk Alone, the national magazine for The Compassionate Friends organization. Terri has discovered a love for being a canine foster parent for rescued Shepherds, home brewing beer and mead, and hosting book studies in their home as she explores her new “normal.”

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  • Dee Mauger Incollingo

    Terri, only when I finished reading, did I notice the tears rolling down my face. For just a moment I was sitting next to you on the floor watching you breathe in Justin’s scent. You are right. Love never ever dies. Death cannot steal that from us. ❤️

    • Thank you Dee for sitting with me on the floor, it it good to not be alone. Remembering your Amy, always.

  • Beautifully written. I felt like I was there with you and even shed a tear too.

    • Thank you Nerys, thank you for your company. Thank you also for the gift of your tears, they speak a language all their own. Wishing you some peace filled moments today.

  • Caiobhe

    thank you for letting us into these moments with you. ‘My heart that grieves and my heart that lives are one and the same.’ Yes, and that is hard. And yet also good and lifesaving.

    • I am honored to share these moments with you. And yes so true, so paradox the heart. I find myself putting my hand over my heart just to feel it beat and to remember and honor that beat. Wishing you some gentle moments today.

  • Annika Mergner

    Terri, I am so glad that your poignant words are being shared with a wider audience. You really know how to get to the heart of it. Remembering all of our lost ones always…Love, Annika

    • Oh Annika, thank you! And yes, remembering all our children, always. Much love to you also.

  • doreenmcgettigan

    This is so beautifully written Terri. I wish I was there to give you a hug.

    • Thank You Doreen! And me too! Here’s to hoping that one day we shall meet and share a story and a hug

  • PiaSav

    I am so sorry. You did such a wonderful job of describing Justin. I could picture him drinking his tea with his cats perching. Beautiful!

    • Dear Pia,

      Thank you! And yes, how did you know? The cats would drape themselves over him, literally sitting on his shoulder. Thank you for capturing that memory with me. Wishing you a peace filled evening.

  • Terri, such a beautiful piece of writing. I want to reach out across the page and give you a hug. Thank you for sharing your world and your heart with us.

    • Dear Judith,

      Thank you for the gift of your time and your kind words. I will take a cyber-hug! It was my privilege to share my heart and I am grateful for these moments. Wishing you a peace filled evening.

  • Laurel Hilton

    Terri- such a lovely piece of writing and so vivid. As a fellow animal lover, I really enjoyed how you wove in subtle incidents where the cats and dog in your family gave you comfort and also felt the loss of Justin. Thank you for sharing these intimate moments with us all.

    • Dear Laurel,

      Thank you for reading and sharing those moments with me. I honestly don’t know where I would be without the companionship of our animals. Cats refuse to let you not engage, they demand that you get up and feed them and remove them whatever naughty thing they are doing. And our dog is the keeper of tears, he touches my soul with his compassion. I hope you enjoy some good furry company today!

  • I Love how you have captured the pace of grief in this post. Sometimes it actually feels like your world is standing still while the grief wave washes over. Grief does heighten the senses which can be a gift to those of us who live a little detached –me. Grief has forced me to feel which is both hard and good. Thanks for sharing this beautiful memory of your beloved son.

    • Dear Astrid,

      Thank you for the gift of your time to stand still with me and share these moments. Oh true, it does feel like my world is standing still in grief while the world rushes by. Slowly I have embraced the gift of grief, it does force us to feel does it not? And it is both hard and good, a paradox. Wishing you a peace filled day.

  • Haralee

    So lovely, so beautiful. Made me cry and sigh with you and the dog!

  • Dear Haralee,

    Thank you, thank you for the gift of your company.

  • Oh my heart, Terri, you so beautifully and accurately describe a grief wave as I have experienced them, right down to the feeling, “oh I can’t do this right now” and the exhaustion afterward. Your pain becomes wisdom in your essays, and that wisdom is a balm to many. Thank you for delving so honestly into your grief and sharing your hardearned knowledge.