They never told me that grief grows. At least that’s what’s happening to me and it may be growing for you as well. As the days wear on, I sometimes think I’m going through phases that are tangled and repeating. It’s not a stage that I am experiencing. A phase seems more integrated, more authentic than a stage. When I think of a stage, I picture a series of steps that take me further from my grief, but I am no further from my grief.
When I think of a phase, I picture a color wheel. If you are old enough you can remember silver Christmas trees that came with a four-color wheel. The wheel would slowly rotate in front of a light bulb that cast the tree in different lights. In between red and blue, the tree looked purple. A purple Christmas tree? Just imagine the possibilities.
But my grief seems more than a simple color wheel. It’s certainly not a lighted allusion, and when I get back to red, somehow, I’m different. I’m older for sure and now colored with blue, orange, and opaque. Not only am I older but everyone and thing are older around me. My grief grows as I grow. It doesn’t always grow bigger, sometimes it seems smaller and more manageable, but it is always evolving. As I mature, it matures along with me.
A few years ago, a close relative lamented that they will soon be older than my son who died when he was thirty. “He will always be thirty,” they said. But that’s not what’s happening for me. Now sometimes when I see a thirty-four-year-old with their children, I think about Aaron with children. I see him lifting them up, I see them in his arms. I see Aaron maturing.
When I’m working on our house, I see him working on the house he would now own. I see him cutting wood. I see him feeding the fire, and wrestling on the rug with twins. I hear him calling and asking how close to put screws in drywall and how to glue boards together, so they won’t warp. He’s getting older, I think, he’s more like me every day-just better.
I hear him telling me he caught his son in a fib, his daughter scored a goal, and he had to take his dog to the vet for the last time. I hear the hesitation, I know he’s holding back his tears. I tell him about the time he was just little, and we took our first dog out to a farm to bury her and now I can hear his tears quietly rolling down his cheeks.
He is growing, I realize, and yet he is still that same little boy. It’s true in life and death. No matter how old I get, or how old he is, he will always be that little boy. But I see him getting older, finding his own way through manhood, and growing into the person I imagined, and God planned.
My grief isn’t going away, my grief is growing. It’s not simple, its complex. I wish it was a predictable as a color wheel and all I’d have to do is wait for purple and I could feel like royalty again. But it’s not.
As complex as grief is, it’s not completely random or uncontrollable. I don’t like the “C” word when talking about feelings because we tend to be control freaks. I prefer “mastery.” For example, I know when I put on my son’s black NFL Eagles sweatshirt that later after the game, I will want to call him text him and call him. I know he will listen to my astute analysis and prediction for next week. We will get off the phone, both closer and content. I know now, I will be sad because today my phone will be quiet and cold. But I put his sweatshirt on because I know my dog will nuzzle her nose on my lap and I will tell her how happy Aaron must be now that “we” are in the play-offs. Sometimes I’m sad, sometimes warm, sometimes I see him doing his happy dance and smile.
I’m mastering my sadness. I’m accepting that my grief is growing along with the memories of my son. Is your grief growing? Let me know if it is and let me know how you are mastering your feelings.
Andy is a Clinical Psychologist who lost his son in a motorcycle accident and now authors articles on bereavement. The quiz is available! Go to http://andymdavidson.com/Home/Pgd to find out if you may have Prolonged Grief Disorder. Look forward to his upcoming posts, and books. Follow him at his website, AndyMDavidson.com and Facebook.com/ThroughLifeandLoss to find out more about prolonged grief.