My Frenemy Grief

Two days into the beginning of the end of my life as I knew it, I went to a tattoo parlor and had a Maya Angelou quote inked onto the inside of my wrist: But still, like air, I’ll rise. I love the Angelou quote, and I stare at it often – but I also remember the exquisite pain that came with its etching. It didn’t take long – maybe 10 minutes – but those 10 minutes relieved me of the excruciating ache that had infected my heart and soul. 

At the time, I had no idea what was to become of me and no idea what the coming months would bring. I’m glad I didn’t. I surely would have taken to my bed like an 18th century mademoiselle in need of smelling salts and spent the next several months curled into a fetal position watching reruns of Law & Order SVU and Little House on the Prairie. 

Thankfully, grief isn’t like that. It doesn’t detail its visitation plans. 

When I first started writing, after What Happened, I wrote the following piece of brilliance: Grief does whatever the fuck it wants. It’s worth repeating. Grief does whatever the fuck it wants

Grief is like a friend you don’t want, someone who makes you go out to the bars and do shots of tequila because sometimes you just need that. It leaves you with a hell of a headache and red swollen eyes and a longing for life as it was before those tequila shots, and you can’t recover because grief keeps making you do more tequila shots. 

Eventually, though, Grief disappears, the hangover goes away, and you start to feel good and spry and so very grateful that you’ve recovered. But here comes Grief, back with a sucker punch and another round of shots and you suddenly find yourself on all fours, tears bubbling up, screaming internally, “Not again! Not again!” and this time you have to eat the worm at the bottom of the bottle, too. 

I’m not at all sure this grief-tequila metaphor works. What’s true is that Grief has become a character in my life, a kind of dark brooding presence who looks a little like the girl in The Exorcist after she gets possessed and vomits up green stuff. Grief jumps on my back and makes me heavy and weak. Grief pushes me backwards from the progress I’ve made. I have a sign that reads: Taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster. It’s more like a cha-cha.  I love the sentiment. But when Grief is manhandling me, it doesn’t feel like a cha-cha. It feels like I’m lurching around, disoriented, kind of like I would be after doing shots of tequila. There, I think I’m making the metaphor work. 

I was speaking recently with a friend about all this. She went through something similar years ago. I told her I feel guilty talking about it now because I worry people think I should be over it at this point. 

“Really?” she said, with a fair bit of sarcasm. “Is there a time limit?”

I guess not. But shouldn’t I be used to it? For the most part I am, but then something unexpected occurs – a decision is made, a piece of mail arrives, a stupid goddamn Facebook memory pops up – and OH, HELLO, GRIEF! I thought I’d banished you to Siberia. 

Its most recent visit came in the wake of an email from the person who no longer lives here, informing me that he was moving on with his life in a way that’s not important to you, but struck me like fever. It wasn’t an envy or a longing, but rather sorrow for the stability of a life now past, the funereal anguish of saying goodbye to the hopes and dreams our family had shared. 

Grief grabbed me and practically poured those shots down my throat – remember, we’re being metaphorical here, I actually didn’t drink anything – and suddenly I found myself driving around aimlessly, crying, despairing, wondering if maybe the end of the world might be less painful. 

Honestly, the end of the world would definitely be less painful. I imagine it would happen instantly, so I’d hardly have time to fret about it. But I don’t want the world to end, and I don’t even want to destroy the inevitable sadness that accompanies trauma. It hurts when it’s there, but after it dissipates, the birds sound happier. 

The person who no longer lives here didn’t like houseplants, accusing them of gathering dust and me of neglecting them. I kept occasional cut flowers in the house, but no plants. Now, with me as the sole master of my domain, I’m gradually turning my home into a mini-jungle. When I’m having bad days, I sit close to my flora and breathe it all in, and I conjure up a botanical spirit who whispers to me, “We’re alive! We’re alive!” It’s so beautiful. 

21 responses to My Frenemy Grief

  1. lynn says:

    You are so beautiful and so are your words. There is no time limit on grief, it visits when it wants/needs to. Love you dear Tricia

    • tricia says:

      Thank you, my amazing friend. So glad to have you in my tribe. xo

  2. Deborah says:

    Tricia, after more than 30 years to that similar thing in my life, a sadness will grip me for what never was and cannot now ever be. And with far more years behind than before, those moments come unbidden for all sorts of losses, even losses I had never experienced until this precise moment. Thankfully, these sadnesses are far less intense than grief – felt more like through a haze of wine than the harshness and immediacy of tequila! They make us who we are and who we will be.

    Stay strong and true.

    • tricia says:

      Deborah, thank you for those beautiful words. You are one of the strongest women I know. xo

  3. Mary says:

    Girl. Grief took me on a ride of, what I refer to as—Ten Years of Survival Mode: Discovering Myself, Alone (raising two baby humans), Mostly Drunk (metaphorically speaking), Broke as Shit (but rich in the beauty of nature), while morning the loss of my husband, and devastated by the loss of my brother and, if it weren’t for Salt Run, I would have died right there and my kids would’ve managed without their mother. It’s a painfully long statement.
    Truth has a way of making things so very drawn out sometimes. And sometimes everything is so clear and positive. 🤷🏼‍♀️

    That Sneaky Bastard Grief still punches me in the throat when I least expect it. I cry. And then I pull my shit-kickers on and get back outside. Brighter Days Ahead Always.

    P.S. I once went to a therapist who insisted I was a “helicopter parent,” which anyone who knows me knows I’m the complete sinking dingy of a parent but we made it out with pearls on. He also said I “would never be over the abuse of my husband if I still cried about it ten years later.” There’s drunkenness and there’s “over it.” I’d prefer to be drunk.

    • tricia says:

      Mary, you will never know how inspiring you have been. You are amazing in every way. xoxo

  4. Helena says:

    Your writing is so rich and visceral and I am so deeply sorry for your continued grief. The “Little Death” experienced when a loving relationship ends is like all your guts are invisibly falling out… and you keep trying to sort them, push them, into the right spaces so you can, well, survive. You, m’dear, are a survivor. I have no doubt of that. Allow the grief to roll through as it will… and allow the anger its moments too ❤️

    • tricia says:

      The guts falling out! Yes! I could not have phrased it better. Thank you so much for you continued support. xo

      • Helena says:

        Oh, that’s easy! You’re a special woman. 🙂
        And, I remember, back in the 90s, when you came to UNF classes with your doggies!!!! Doesn’t seem like decades ago. 🙂

  5. Yvette says:

    I love this piece Tricia. I SO relate to the sentiment, “you’re not going over that yet?” Even if folk don’t say the words, they say it their eyes and gesture. My sister is never coming back as my sister. And I could really use her crazy ass in my life right now. Whatever your loss and grief, the timeline is YOURS, and no judgement please. Thanks for speaking my reality💜🙏🏾📿

  6. Peggy Hilbert says:

    You never get over grief- you just learn to live and deal with it in your own way. Your way is not always someone else’s way. You find your peace and don’t let anyone or anything take up space in your head. My husband and I found our peace before he passed away and I don’t let anyone or anything no mater what ruin my peace. And i live For today like it’s your last day because you cannot change the past and you cannot predict the future so you live for today.

  7. Jan says:

    I read this with great emotion but Tricia I am not aware of what has happened
    Can u share privately jan schueppert

  8. Barbara says:

    Tricia, you are an incredible gift that brings me joy. Your honesty and humor rises above it all. I know it may not feel like that sometimes but it is always in your cocktail. Sending a hug.

    • tricia says:

      Thank you, Barbara. Hearing that from you is special indeed. I admire you so much. xo

    • tricia says:

      Hi Bob! It’s the same! I’ll email you soon!

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