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Ode to Grief: 

    All people have, to a variable degree, a biological drive to seek out, form, and maintain close relationships. We become attached to others and these attachments can provide a “safe haven” of support and reassurance under stress. The confidence that we have in our attachments fosters our autonomy and confidence with exploration. Losing someone we are attached to leads to grief, a natural process that is both profoundly difficult and adaptive. Grief can take many shapes. Some people experience intense negative emotions, others (temporarily) lose their ability to feel or connect with any emotions at all. For many Autistic people, grief can manifest as difficulties with processing information (heightened sensory sensitivities; worsening memory, attention, planning, or organizing) and a related regression of previously attained skills (speech, language, social). For many people, the loss can disrupt their sense of “safe haven,” leading to a sense of disbelief and difficulties re-engaging with the rest of the world. The gradual acceptance of the loss and the rebuilding supports/autonomy are also a part of grief, although they are less often talked about. 

   Much has been written on the topic of grief over the years. I would like to share with you a particularly eloquent and poignant essay that I came across a while back. The metaphor used in the essay is something that many people can intuitively connect with, which makes the message even more powerful. 

 


Alright, here goes. I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far) and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to "not matter". I don't want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can't see.

As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

Reprinted with explicit permission from G. Snow