A Year of Grief

On June 9, 2014, my long-term boyfriend and I broke up. In a moment I was displaced, having to rearrange my whole life: find a new place to live, rediscover who I was as single, a somewhat foreign concept. I’m writing because that was over a year ago, and I am still grieving.

The day of the breakup, I got dessert with my two dearest friends, Sarah who listens better than anyone I know, and therapist-to-be Bethany who at the time was eight months pregnant. As Sarah, Bethany, and I sat in the back of Cupcake Royale, I remember us laughing. Somehow when my worst nightmare came true, I found myself crying with laughter. Later that night: more tears. The next days, and weeks, and months, so many tears. But sometimes, between the tears, I laughed.

Grief is a funny thing.

I’ve learned this past year that grief does not follow a normal time table. The hardest month post-breakup was January, seven months later. I’ve learned that grief needs to be cared for, the way you care for a wounded animal.

When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what’s left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside,
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed….

*

Throughout the year, I’ve found myself seeking out grief poems. It seems to me that poetry is the language of grief.

The week of the anniversary, Sarah and I saw Sufjan Stevens play his new album, Carrie & Lowell, in concert. The album is, above all else, a collection of grief poems. As I sat there in the audience, I heard the songs in a way I had not at home, on my iPhone. I could feel Sufjan’s grief and I could feel my own. Somehow in his playing the album live, for me, in front of me, he spoke truth about grief and death that I could not begin to explain. I could not begin to unpack.

Toward the middle of the show, he played his song “Fourth of July” repeating the refrain over and over again, an almost comical number of times, as we sat there, bearing witness.

Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn
Or the Fourth of July?
We’re all gonna die
We’re all gonna die
We’re all gonna die
(And so on.)

*

I’m weary of ever saying to others and myself, “Well, it all worked out in the end.” As true as this is, and for myself included, I worry that it blows off trauma as somehow worth it, as if it were meant to be. My theology leads me to believe that all of this pain, all of these broken relationships, painful endings, consequential mistakes, and ugly deaths, are not meant to be. Something has gone terribly wrong in this world; death was never meant to be a part of it. We yearn for something else.

The only hope in death, I’ve learned, is the hope of resurrection.

*

It’s been a year and a month since the breakup. (It’s taken me a month to write this, I’ll have you know.) Since then, I’ve experienced so much goodness, so much grace. Two days post-breakup, I found an apartment to move into with dear friends of mine. A month post-breakup, I got the job I so badly wanted. Five months post-breakup (nearly to the day), I went on a first date for the first time in four years. Eight months later, we’re still together, happy as clams. (Smile.)

Much has changed. Grief changes your landscape.

Bethany’s baby, just a fetus when she and her mother ate dessert with me at the back of the cupcake shop, is now a year old. When I babysit her, when she squeezes my fingers with her tiny hands, I think, you were here with me the whole time, weren’t you? From Cupcake Royale to the one-year anniversary, you were there.

*

The reason this post has taken me so long to write is because it has no focus, no obvious narrative thread. It’s the kind of patchwork blogging I did as a teenager, when stream-of-consciousness was “my thing,” I thought, after reading Faulkner.

It’s no wonder to me that I’ve turned to poetry, music, and (as I’ve mentioned previously) Lauren Winner’s episodic memoir to guide me through my grief, not structured, goal-oriented non-fiction or fiction.

So with no conclusive way to end, here’s a poem I’ve returned to again and again this year, maybe the best poem I’ve found on grief. It’s by Mary Oliver.

Heavy

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poets said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled—
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

About Lauren Sawyer

I am an assistant instructor at a graduate school in Seattle, Washington, and I hold a master of the arts in theology and culture. I love coffee, rainy days, and John Updike. Learn more about me at laurendeidra.com.

2 thoughts on “A Year of Grief

  1. This post is so, so good, Lauren. At this exact moment, I’m chatting with a dear friend whose spouse just filed for divorce. Heartbreak everywhere. Later, after the trauma subsides a bit, I’ll pass this along to my friend.

    1. Thank you so much, Pat–and I’m glad. It felt like the right time to write it. There’s so much to grieve right now.

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