Short Stories: Living with Grief

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 grief and loss

George stared blankly out of his office window, ignoring the messy stack of unprocessed forms sitting to the right of his elbow.  A fly buzzed loudly against the window, frantically searching for a way out.  It’s buzzing drew George’s attention and his gaze began to follow the fly’s erratic travels as it bounced against the grimy panes.  A faint beam of sunlight pierced through the dirt on the windows but did little to lighten the dreariness of the small office.

With a start, George suddenly noticed the quiet.  The buzzing had stopped.  Looking around, he realized that the fly was lying dead on the sill, one more ill-fated carcass littering the base of his window.  I really should clean that window one of these days.  George sighed deeply, knowing that he wasn’t likely to do that.  What did it matter anyway?  Glancing at the clock, he was startled to see that more than two hours had passed.  The last thing he remembered was coming back from his coffee break.  And then now, it was already time to go home.  What had he done all afternoon?

Groaning as he looked at the large stack of work that was unfinished, George knew that he was going to have to ask his boss for yet another extension.  He just could not seem to concentrate and he knew that he was getting further and further behind.  Formerly a top performer, George was starting to feel overwhelmed and guilty because he could not seem to get his act together.  Ever since… quickly he stopped his train of thought.  No, don’t go there.

Just then, his assistant peered through his glass door, but then with a sympathetic wince, quickly backed away.  George could see her through the door standing with some of the other office assistants, talking.  As he watched them glance at him and then look guiltily away when they noticed him watching them, George knew that they were talking about him.  Again.  Why wouldn’t everyone just treat him like normal?  He was getting tired of the way they were all tiptoeing around him.  And he could tell they were avoiding him too.  No one knows what to say to me.  It’s like I’m making them all feel so awkward.

Sighing again, George packed up his work into his briefcase, even though deep down, he knew that he wasn’t likely to get to it at home.  It all depended on how Meredith was doing.  And how bad the mess was at home.  Seeing the disaster in their home these days, it was hard to imagine that they used to have a showcase home that Meredith proudly and lovingly maintained.  But that was all before The Accident that changed their lives forever.

Forcing his thoughts away from anything painful, George focused on tidying up his office and making his way home.  He stopped by the local pizzeria to pick up dinner, after calling ahead to place his order.  Pizza, fried chicken, Chinese take out food, that was pretty much his repertoire of meals these days.  Looking down wryly at his growing gut, George thought longingly of the delicious homemade meals that Meredith used to make before The Accident.

Shaking off his thoughts, George entered through the garage door of his home, juggling his briefcase and the pizza.   He noticed the laundry piling up on the laundry room floor and made a mental note to take care of it on the weekend.  As he walked past the wilting plants in the hallway, George paused to listen.  Silence. His heart sank.  It was another bad day for Meredith.  Not that there were many good days, but he had hoped that 8 months after The Accident, she would have been able to move on with her life.

I miss Jenn too, but life has to go on. Even as he thought of his daughter, George was startled by the painful lurch in his heart, and the sensation of tears prickling behind his eyes.  Stop it.  Thinking of her won’t bring her back.  We have to move on.  Forcing himself to think about all the tasks he had to do this weekend, George went upstairs and knocked on his son’s door.  No response.  Knocking again louder, he opened the door without waiting for an answer and saw Alex lying back on his unmade bed, army boots still on his feet and propped up on his pillow.  He could hear loud, screeching music coming from the ear buds tucked into Alex’s ears even as he was playing Halo on his Xbox.  Empty coke cans littered the floor, next to the crumpled chip bags.

Wanting to avoid the inevitable screaming match that would occur if he tried to say anything to Alex, George quietly closed the door once again.  I don’t have any energy to deal with him right now.  He shook his head sadly, thinking about how much his son had changed since The Accident.  His fun-loving, athletic and sweet boy was no more.  Now he was a virtual stranger, a surly and angry teenager who seemed to hate his family and do everything to avoid them.  Nothing George said or did was right anymore.  Meredith was always the one who got the kids to talk when they were upset, but now she spent most of her days isolated in their bedroom.

Moving on from Alex’s room, George quietly opened the door to their bedroom.  Immediately, his nostrils were assaulted with the sour, stale air mingled with the scent of the toast that he had left with Meredith that morning.  Still untouched.  George could see Meredith rolled up in the blankets and as he drew near, he saw that she was asleep.  His heart ached as he saw the ravages on her face, the dried tears on her cheeks, her swollen nose and red eyelids.  Her hair looked stringy with her gray roots showing, and she looked and smelled as if she had not taken a shower in days.  Oh Meri, when will you stop crying?

Next to her bedside was an assortment of pills that the doctor had prescribed to help her sleep.  He hated how dependent she had become on those pills, but that seemed to be the only way she was able to get through those long nights when she could not stop keening for her daughter.  Those long nights he had to force his pillow over his ears to avoid hearing her agony.  He couldn’t listen to her anymore because it reminded him too much of all that he had lost.

Lord, help us please!  I don’t know how much longer we can continue on this way.  I want my wife back.  I want my life back.  Forgive me for being so selfish but I need Meri!  George fought his growing feelings of frustration, even as his heart ached for his wife.  Ached for his family and for all they had lost.  When would life ever be normal again?  I’m so tired, Lord.  I’m trying so hard to be strong for my family but I don’t know how much longer I can go on. Even as George prayed, he knew that he was fooling himself.  His faith was now as dead as his baby girl.

Some days, it was almost impossible to come home, because everything reminded him of his baby girl.  And when he thought about how he would never see her running down the stairs ever again, or hear her singing loudly or giggling with her friends, he felt the unspeakable loss like a sudden knife to his gut.  And to think that he would never watch her graduate high school or university, or walk her down the aisle at her wedding – the anguish of his loss when he thought of what would never be was unbearable.  Sometimes, George hated to remember her, because the kaleidoscope of memories would assault him and leave him breathless from the grief:  remembering the wrinkly, red face that he fell in love with when she was born, seeing his princess twirling around in her Snow White costume, thinking of all the times of cuddling and praying for her when she had a nightmare, watching her score the victory goal in her school’s soccer tournament.  Even as he hated to think about those memories, he found himself poring over them like a stingy hoarder, fearful of the day when the memories would fade and he would be left with nothing.

Just then, the phone rang, interrupting his reverie.  Checking the screen, he saw that it was a 1-800 number.  Just another marketer.  It seemed that was all they got these days.  No one seemed to call anymore.  Life just goes on, I guess.  At first, after The Accident, their phone wouldn’t stop ringing with all of their friends calling to give their condolences.  Church members were regularly bringing by meals, many of them offering their help.  George knew that they were well-meaning, but after the initial flurry of calls and visits, they had all died down as everybody got busy with life once again.  Secretly he wondered if people actually avoided them now because they didn’t know what to say, but also because seeing their loss reminded them of what they could lose themselves.  And who wants to be reminded about how fragile life is?  I know I’d much rather pretend like tragedy won’t happen to me.

George gritted his teeth as he remembered the inane comments people made to him and his family:  “Your daughter is in a much better place now”; “You should celebrate that she’s with God now”; “God will never give you more than you can bear”.  Ha!  That was his personal favourite!  If that was no more than he could bear, why did he feel like he was being crushed under the weight of his unbearable loss?  Why did he feel like he wanted to die too?  And the number of people who kept quoting Scriptures to him and preaching at him drove him nuts.  It was a big part of why he avoided going to church now.   He just wished someone would invite him to go to an open field to scream curses as loudly as he could, until his throat was hoarse with a pain that equaled the agony in his heart.  Or maybe someone who would offer to get stinking drunk with him so that he could forget his life for a brief moment.

George sighed.  He knew that he wasn’t being fair.  People were trying to do the best they could.  In their shoes, he would have done the same thing.  He had done the same thing.  How his perspective had shifted when he was the one walking in those shoes.  When he was the one who had lost.  Would life ever be normal?

——

Is there anyone you know who has experienced tragic loss recently?  Think about who you could call, visit or send a card of encouragement.  The grieving process can be a very long one, and all too often, those who are grieving tend to isolate themselves, rather than reach out or ask for help.  Consider reaching out the them and letting them know that they have not been forgotten.  Whether they present as angry, sad or emotionally empty, be sensitive to the different manifestations of grief.  And be patient with those who question the goodness of God – or even the existence of God – as they wrestle with the disconnect between God’s love and why he allows loss to happen.  These grievers need our compassion not our judgement even when they’re angry and seem to reject God.  Just as God is able to bear up under their anger and continue to love and woo them back, so can we demonstrate his grace and love to these sufferers.

If this is you, my heart aches for your loss and your pain.  Please consider reaching out to others to help you through the long and lonely times. Beyond counselling, there are many wonderful grief groups that can help you feel less alone in your loss.  While your pain may not lessen, having the care and encouragement of others can give you the needed strength to endure, until you can begin to accept your loss and embrace life once again.

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