Monday, April 3, 2017

#SOl15: How Grief Works

A small section of woods in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains.
Rob, Devon and I had rented a home there in April, 2014. (M.A. Reilly, 2014)


I woke up this morning, renewed--as if all the crying and sadness I experienced on Friday and Saturday had been purged. Sometimes the only way through the grief is to walk through it and feel. Being 'rescued' from feeling would have been possible.  I could have leaned on Devon, made a phone call to a friend--but I did neither. I needed some alone time to just feel the sadness that had arisen as I immersed myself in Rob's writing and the memoir I have started. I found an email update Rob sent on December 18, 2015 to family and friends. I don't recall reading it before. It would be the last one he was able to write. In it he described what the narcotics were doing to him and how the adjustment of less narcotics by his new oncologist had helped. He wrote,

I feel as if I climbed out of a big black velvet bag: it was dark in there but I had gotten used to the darkness and didn't realize how dark it was until I untied the top of the bag and let some light in. 

Rob dozing at Christmas (Dec. 25, 2015)

That year, we had a quiet Christmas--what would be Rob's last week at home before being hospitalized again. It was unusually warm and my brothers showed up wearing polo shirts. I can remember looking at them--at their arms so muscled in their shirts and thinking that they looked so much more solid than my husband whose body was already being to fold in on itself.

That night, Rob was able to join us at the table for dinner. One of my brothers pushed him in the transport chair to the table and we ate. Three days later, we would celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and Rob would once again eat dinner at the table.  Not even two days later he would be transported to the hospital where he would remain for the next 50 days.


Grieving is not a path through a forest. No, it is more the old growth forest than the path and sometimes it is so thick with trees and canopy that it is impossible to become oriented. Is it daylight? Has nighttime fallen? Where is due North? It is much like the black velvet bag that Rob referenced.

Grieving has no set path to follow. That road can only be made while walking. Now and then I have come upon a path already trodden and relieved I have followed it for awhile. A resting place. Those paths tend to end abruptly and I am left in a thicket or among dense trees and I feel an overwhelming need to find a way out.

This time I stood still and as David Wagoner suggests in his poem, Lost, I let the trees find me. And they did.


Online, there are a small group of women I have met who travel their own paths--women who have lost good husbands, who know the depth of love and how that love continues to lift and nurture. We are kindred souls and as I read their words--I most often feel hopeful.


  1. There is so much to process...does the writing and creating help "the trees find you?" There is a gentle sorrow here. We are all trying to find the light.

    1. The writing and making art reveal most often what I simply did not know.

  2. Morning Mary Ann,
    I'm so glad I just clicked into FB and found your latest post because even in good times the path is never without a small, invisible hole to trip you up, throw you off balance, cause you to stumble. I'm good and I'm instantly sad and then back again.. the rollercoaster ride is eternal. I'm so glad for the support and comfort of writer friends as well.

  3. Mary Ann, life is shared with others who care and that is what is happening here tonight. Your circle grows and bonds thicken. I hear your grief deep in your heart but I also hear the voice of hope. May life be gentle to you this week.


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