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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