When I trace the history of grief in my life, it begins to feel as if there was never a year when we existed as separate entities. As if, from the start, grief was an invisible friend of my childhood, the two of us always comfortable sharing secrets with our eyes across the distance of an unaware room. That younger version of myself always seemed so poorly suited to her age. Too grave, too grown up. But truly she makes strange and solid sense, an ‘all things considered’ sort of rightness.
At the age of four, my life changed swiftly. Within two weeks of a routine doctor’s visit, I was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension, a rare and complex heart-lung illness that left my future in uncertain terms. My parents fought to shelter me from my reality, despite invasive treatments and the prediction that it was not likely I would survive long past grade school. It wasn’t until my thirteenth year when I myself became aware that I had lived far past my prognosis, my future nothing more than a whispered hope. Since then, in each day of my story, grief has stood tall. Sometimes, within my immediate reach, and more often, throughout the world at large.
Now, at the age of twenty-three, I am preparing to move across the country in pursuit of a lifesaving heart-lung transplant. In this season particularly, grief is an everyday acquaintance. Our relationship is intimate, never failing to highlight the truth that life is finite and brief. Quick for some, and even quicker for others. Informed by the figures of tragedy and loss, I know well that suffering is a complex burden to carry. To let darkness twist circles and doubt into the resilience of the human spirit is undeniably heartbreaking. And yet, there is wonder in uncovering this universally human process.
Perhaps our best encouragement through it all is to understand that grief itself has reserved space for beauty. Not separate, but together. In the intricacies of mourning, we unveil precious miracles, careful iotas of grace that would otherwise be left unnoticed in the midst of a lukewarm life. Grief, in all of its chaos and wrath, is attempting to do something wonderful. And we, in all of our brokenness, must find the strength to wake up and set it in motion.
Of course, this is easier said than done. When in the face of trials and trauma, we often fight so hard to protect ourselves from the looming shadows. Grief is something that we, by nature, are not comfortable with. So when it comes, and rattles us offbeat, we wait for it to pass. And perhaps, in the immediate recovery, we can pretend that we are freed of it for good. But the truth is, the moment grief stumbles into our days, it holds tightly. Over time, it will shift and settle differently within us, but its presence will scarcely diminish. And eventually, on an unassuming day, it will become clear that the shadows are unmoving.
One of the fears, of course, is that this new darkness will change us. And it will. That’s the great and wonderful point of it all. In the process of welcoming grief inside, everything else must adjust to make room. And in reference to grief, every other idea becomes braver than before. Grief is a Litmus test, a means with which we can more clearly understand this magnificent life. At the end of the day, the grief is inevitable. It is the way we posture our response where true transformation can take place. Perhaps the most important decision we as humans can make is to fully embrace our pain and uncertainty, allowing it to freely intersect with each resulting moment of awe.
Since the beginning, death has sat by my side. Early on, it was made clear that my future could never be more than a question mark. Already, I have aged so far past the girl I was expected to be, each year offering completely foreign territory in the context of a terminal diagnosis. Knowing mortality so personally completely and continually transforms the context of my everyday life. And to be honest, it has been a heavy truth to grow into.
And yet, the weights do not rest on me as terribly as some people may think. Rather, my life is made richer and truer than anything I would have known otherwise. Grief is my most meaningful informant, the intersection where my foundation rests. It is a place where I find unrelenting beauty that many never have the chance to meet. Grief is not just one half of the balance in a life of extremes. Instead, it is a starting point to a different way of understanding this existence, a privilege that must bloom within us. Grief is not just one part, meant to be isolated to a moment or a season, but the whole reason we are here in the first place. It is what tangibly tethers us to one another, and without it, we may never find a way towards reverence for the rest.
On days when the grief is too much for my own two hands, artwork is my most meaningful ally. Grief is never useful when left in silence. So, with words and lines I find a way to place the confusion and fear outside of myself. It’s a motion that feels as rare and impossible as childhood magic. In this action, I know with unwavering delight – this is the reason I am here in the first place. With grief as the primary medium behind all that I create, the outcome can only be a deeply honest form of beauty. And in knowing that, there remains no reason to argue with the chaos.
It may look different for you. Perhaps your grief is leading you towards a relationship with those who have recently entered into your same circumstance. Or maybe your grief is an injustice that has given calling towards civil movement. You will know it when you see it. It will feel like relief, the breaking point when you can finally catch your breath above the waves, uncharted ground where the suffering becomes something sacred and necessary. Wherever you find it, let grief be the one to walk with you. Certainly, any creation that follows will offer tender resolution for each moment of despair.
At the end of the day, grief will always look like grief. And in the immediacy of great loss, we have no choice but to submit to the depths, before seeking a way back out. But in the moment when things go still, when you are sitting in the quiet with an awareness that you did not have before, listen close. Grief is asking something of you. It is trying to explain what comes next. It is begging you to understand: There is great work that needs to be done. This is what you are here for.
Are you listening?