I was talking to a friend today who reminded me the importance of allowing grief to be a personal experience and not one open for debate on how it is handled. Our chat took me back a few years to a story that I have never told.
“I’m just a girl, standing on her toes, waiting to be kissed…”
Several years ago, I met a wonderful man in his mid 80s. He had decided on me after researching for some time seeking someone that could potentially connect to the wife he had shared his journey with for all of his adult life. His first reading ever, he arrived looking a little uncertain but clearly eager; his eyes sparkled as I welcomed him into my world. I have never forgotten this gentleman and I am certain that by now he has been reunited with his girl that he missed so deeply.
She had been gone for a good ten years when he found me and his shoulders showed sign of a decade of tears. Curled forward and hopeful he gazed toward me as I began to create the channel that would ultimately bring me to “his one and only” as he called her. Each time he would say those words I would watch as his hand came up to his heart. This man had loved this beautiful woman for nearly 60 years and her death was not going to change that experience for him.
I began to bring forward some words that he had been patiently waiting to hear; she spoke of good times and bad times, of laughter, of shared memories that were both wonderful and painful. She shared stories of picnics in the back yard and how it always irritated her how he folded his socks. He smiled and he nodded as I watched him flip back over time with her. As I glanced up at him I could clearly see his wrinkles soften and his manner change to that of the 20 year old that fell in love at a naval dance with a pretty little thing who refused his advances. I will never forget her words
“You gotta make them work for it remember”
And he laughed as they fell from my mouth. Oh he remembered. He remembered.
As we neared the end of our session she leaned in close to me and told me that she was still standing on her toes for his kiss. That she wanted him to continue to kiss her every single day until the day she saw him again.
I relayed these words to him and watched the first tear of our time together as it rolled down his cheek.
Our session was not ending here.
I pressed him on her words and he told me that he had blown her picture up to life size after her death. He had then hung that picture on the back of their bedroom door. He had positioned it so that he would still have to lean down to kiss her. They had never spent a day apart and each morning started with that kiss, and each night ended on that kiss. And this was the one thing he couldn’t give up even in her death. My heart blew open watching his face as he told me this story. I couldn’t stop my own tears as they filled my lower lashes.
I was completely unprepared to hear his words that followed.
“My family tell me it’s time to get over this”
This is what he had come to hear. He had sought out his first reading to hear that it was still OK for him to kiss her. He needed her to tell him that it was OK because the family felt it was holding him back.
I can well recall my initial response and how I blurted out the words
“How dare anyone tell you how to grieve something so beautiful!”
He continued to relay to me how friends and family couldn’t understand his decision to keep her clothes in the room that they shared. How the bedspread, thin and worn, would not be replaced. How her pillowcase had not been changed. How her toothbrush still sat beside his own in the bathroom. How her slippers still sat on her side of the bed as if she would slide into them the next day.
All these things a familiar place for him to return to after a day in the world without the woman he loved for so long. And he had been admonished for holding onto things that would not bring her back. Admonished for allowing grief to consume his life…or at the very least…their bedroom. Made to feel that he wasn’t progressing away from his pain.
My heart broke for him as he shared his litany of little joys that kept him connected to her. The things that others told him to box up were the things that kept him alive. The only things that he had of a story that spanned decades and a lifetime that no one could understand except him.
This love story reminded me to always be gentle. To always remember that grief is not a package deal included in the funeral that comes with a guarantee that we move on and forget. It reminds me to allow for others to process their pain and their loss in a way that works for them and not in a way that works for those around them.
Grief makes us uncomfortable. We find ourselves at a loss for words or we simply try to deny its existence. We shake our heads at those that are stuck in the past and refuse to box it up. We want to offer words that encourage forward movement and often those words can become demanding.
“Oh dad for Gods sake, it’s been five years, we have to sort this out!”
Grief frightens us. It reminds us that one day we will be in this same place. And we don’t want to honor that possibility so we make demands of others to lead the way and show us how strong we can be when that moment arrives for ourselves.
Grief makes us selfish. It doesn’t allow us to allow others to feel what they need to feel and to be what they need to be to get through each day from now until then. Because of our own discomforts we don’t want others to feel it because we can’t handle it.
Grief is not an option. Grief is a requirement. There is no escape from it, it will happen to you. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day you will find yourself staring at the toothbrush on the bathroom counter and remembering how you tasted toothpaste on their lips as you kissed them goodnight.
And no one has a right to take that memory from you.
Grief isn’t a lesson to learn. It’s a love that endures.
We are not here to handle the grief for others. We are here to support them in how they choose to handle it for themselves.
Somewhere in the spirit side, a pretty little thing is standing on her toes with her face turned upwards….
And a tall man in love is bending down to kiss her.
In love. In light.