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Illustration: Linnea Elynn McNally

Anne-Marie Farley: A Letter to My Grief
Illustration: Linnea Elynn McNally

 
 
 

Dear Grief:
I give in. You win. I am officially crying “uncle.” After six years, I finally understand what you have been trying to tell me all along: we are forever going to be linked. Right? I thought if I spent a reasonable amount of time entertaining and acknowledging you, we would outgrow each other and go along on our respective ways. I thought that eventually you would slip away into my past — just like the future I thought I would have with my husband.

I remember seeing a future with him the very first time we met, in 1987, at an unlikely place to meet a mate: the Get-Me-High Lounge, a jazz bar on the west side of Chicago. The separate groups we each arrived with quickly found each other. I made him laugh and was outspoken in contrast to his subtle, brilliant sense of humor and quiet drive. He asked for my phone number and I wondered how he’d call if he didn’t write it down. He remembered.

Grief, at first, you were impossible to ignore. You howled in my head at all hours. Relentless. You kept me up, your cry an eerie Why? resounding in the dead of night. For you I would forgo sleep, as you compelled me out of bed and down the stairs long after the kids had been put to bed. Together, we’d search the house for answers — anything to help explain why he left.

I remember feeling desperate, almost frantic, as I dug through boxes of old letters tucked in basement corners, dusty old photo albums from our years together, and pockets of his clothing still hanging in our closet. Maybe I would find a sentence from an old letter, a look in an old photograph, or a note left in a coat pocket or his favorite pair of jeans that would explain what I surely had missed. There HAD to be something — anything — that would explain why my love could take his own life and leave us behind.


But the trail went cold, as you knew it would. There were no answers to be found, no missed clues — and no scent to follow. There was just his final message to me on that last day, professing his love for our beautiful boys and me and his appreciation for such a wonderful life, so full and well-lived. He couldn’t understand or explain why he felt the need to go. But everything was telling him to.

As time went on, Grief, you started to slip into the shadows. Relief, however, was only temporary. Whenever I’d lose myself in an everyday activity — even if only for a moment — I’d soon be jolted back to reality, as you’d interrupt my short-lived calm. You had become feral, chained in the background, pouncing and baring your teeth with reminders of my great loss when I least expected it. You would startle me with memories that made my heart ache: when songs by his favourite group, The Who, played on the radio, or when I would remember how the boys used to run to him with hugs when he walked through the door after work. You pressed down on me, heavy against my chest, with that barking that always reminds me of what would never be: like watching the sweet contentment of an older couple holding hands, or a mom and dad escorting their child together at my son’s awards ceremony, where I, alone, walked with our son. You made my heart race and I ran from you — pushing those thoughts and memories out of my head as fast as I could.

I ran from what had been. I packed up the boys during the holidays and escaped to family in Seattle, friends in Chicago, and warm weather destinations. Gone was Christmas Eve dinner at a Chinese restaurant, a tradition that started when, as a boy, his Nana would treat them to dinner at the only restaurant open in their small southern town. Gone was Thanksgiving dinner hosted at our home, with extra tables set and everyone holding hands as he said grace. Surely making new memories was better than remembering the old ones.


Oh, Grief. How I have learned that running only makes the chase more thrilling! That must be why, after six years, you have come out of the shadows with a new resolve. You will not be ignored. I’ve tried, but you dig in your teeth like a pit bull I can’t shake.

I’m scared.

I’m tired.

And then, I realize—
I have been looking at you in the wrong way from the very start.

Grief, I have been treating you as my enemy, when in fact, you are really just a part of my new reality. You’re not a wild canine, intent on scaring me and inflicting pain as I try to carve out a new life without my love. You are not something to run from. You’re more like the puppy I brought home from the shelter the summer after my husband’s death: a wonderful mutt, like a tiny black cub, with the most appealing, heart-melting face — even if his legs were a little too short.

Sure, my pooch was a handful at first (much like you were). He cried at night in his miniature crate, breaking my heart and testing my resolve. He chewed the corners of my expensive rugs and left surprises for me in the house. I was exhausted, but he would not be ignored. I was patient and kind with my puppy, and in return, he became my companion — not asking for much: just a daily walk, fresh food and water, and an occasional game of fetch in the yard.

He’s mellowed over the years and no longer jumps on me or nips at my heels. He still follows me from room to room, but now keeps his distance. He wants to know where I am and is at the ready to alert me with loud barking to things that he believes I need to know about. Like, say, a passing UPS truck or dog buddy. He has found his place in my life and has accepted willingly his job as loyal guardian of our pack. And I welcome it.

Grief, I now know that you are simply doing your job. You yelp aloud so that I don’t become dead to the memories of that very first kiss, of buying our first house, of welcoming our first, second, and third sons. It’s you whose barking reminds me of the little things: the name of his favourite dark beer, how terrible a singer he was, that he used my towel in the mornings, never wiped down the countertops, and chewed really loudly. Grief, it’s you who never lets me forget that he really was a good dancer, father, best friend. All memories I won’t — and shouldn’t — forget.

I understand, Grief. Your job is to be my loyal companion forever and I am now okay with that.

Good boy.

 

 

 
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