My father died two years ago today.
I look back and those first months are hazy. Heavy. I feel them pressing down on me again if I dip my toe into that memory. My family in shock. The trauma deep. My grief absolute.
I used to think grief was a tunnel. A period of darkness with the promise of light and fresh air on the other side. A wide expanse. Freedom from the pain and the anxiety that lived in the tunnel.
I know better now.
Grief is a forest.
There is no end, no beginning. The forest extends in every direction. Sometimes it is dark, the canopy gathered overhead, thick with towering pines and twisted branches, their leafy fingers interlaced against the sky, blocking out the sun. The forest can be hard to navigate. The way bumpy. The path unclear if there at all. There are animal calls you can’t identify. Twigs snap and fear hums in your blood. Your body prepares for survival in a constant way that leads to exhaustion.
But then. A moment. A light through the trees. Sunshine on your face. Warmth. Pretty wildflowers push up through fields, their heads bent towards sunrise. The forest becomes a protector. Rain filters through the leaves and softly baptizes you. The crunch of your footsteps echoes familiarity. The call of birdsong lifts your gaze to the sky.
The pain lessens, the anxiety breathes, but you will always be in the forest. The darkness returns or the light is dappled and it is both light and dark at the same time. You make peace with the shade because the shadows of grief will remain. You don’t come out the other side. You simply press on. One foot in front of the other. Resting on the soft moss when needed. Trailing your hands along the soft blossoms when you can.
Grief is a new home. A place that can be full of gratitude for the love you felt, the memories you made together. A place of growth and pain and tears and laughter. It is all those things. Grief is a forest of many trees. An organism with deep roots.
It is not a tunnel.
It doesn’t end or expire.
It hurts like hell.
But it can still be beautiful.