Nicole Jankowski
Feb 4 · 4 min read

This is how it feels to be grieving

My dad died 10 days ago, suddenly, with no warning.

The entire first week after, it felt like I was drowning alone in a cold, green lake, unable to move against the swells of shock.

Day eight was his funeral and sitting in the front row of the church, fear punched me hard in the gut. All the scenes of that day and the day before looped through my eyes in Polaroid photos of muted, scattered gray. Snapshots of wrenching ache. Listening to the high heels I shouldn’t have worn clicking as I retreated down the aisle, faces of strangers in the pews looking away as I sobbed with every step. My hair long and straight down my back, too small pink sweater snug over a black wool dress. Hugging men with tearstained faces who whispered stories about my father from a time long before I was born. Burying my face in my husband’s neck in the parking lot outside the funeral home, sobbing “what happens now?” against his chest.

“It will feel like you’re on an island,” my cousin, who had also lost her father, cautioned me about the mourning. And at the time, they were only words to me, a noise no different than the click clack of my black shoes on the church atrium floor. But soon, I knew exactly what she meant. I watched over the next week as the world moved on with their lives — -what else were they supposed to do? But I sat in my small space of sadness, away and alone. I could not bear the idea that everything would return to the way it was, not when my father was gone from us all, forever.

I do not know the upside of this grief, if there is any upside. It is overwhelming to live in the space where there is nothing to do but just accept the waves of sadness as they come. Because they just keep coming. And all the time, I feel as though I am where I am supposed to be, grieving and missing, loving and hurting. I do not want to leave this place yet, where should I go?

After a friend heard the news, she sent me a text that said, “I’m not going to try to tell you there is a silver lining. I’m just going to be there and listen if you need me to listen.”

I’ve thought about that text a lot over the last few days. If there really is any silver lining in the wake of this loss, it is in the kindness that has threaded through the mourning. The silver lining is in the pink-enveloped sympathy cards that arrive in the mailbox, through the snow. It is in the sad eyes of friends, who in their 20s and 30s have had no real experience of death or loss, but still come and sit among the great aunts and third cousins at the funeral home on a Friday night. The silver lining is knitted in hot meals from neighbors and worried messages, often unanswered, brimming with concern and helplessness, “I just wanted to make sure you knew I was thinking of you.”

Maybe in ten years, when I look back at this time, I will remember those noisy funeral shoes and the cavern of emptiness in my chest. I will remember the paralyzing sorrow that wrapped its’ cold fingers around my heart and squeezed tight until I was…breathless, gasping, help me.

But I will also remember how the silver lining of kindness weaved through my grief until they were entwined together, like a heavy blanket. I will remember that the people I loved did not try to make it better by saying things that were not true, nor did they leave me be, when I tried to convince the world that I needed no one, wanted nothing.

They go together now, the grief and the kindness, in a jumble of feelings that keeps me up late in the night and then whispers into my ear that I should sleep, just sleep, you should sleep now, in the brightness of the day.

It is a beautiful thing to love someone, it is a terrible thing to lose them.

It is sometimes a terrible thing to love someone too. In the time of their grief, when they are suffering through a loss, when they want to be — and do not want to be — alone. When all you can do is hold their hand through the crying, when there is nothing you can say that will make their wrenching pain go away, when all you can do is be still and quiet and near in the face of their gasping, lonely hurt.

Thank God we do it anyway.
Thank you, all of you, for doing it anyway.

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