I can feel him behind me, sniffing, as I lean in to get mashed potatoes, gravy, and green bean casserole.
I’m having Thanksgiving with my husband and my parents, and the spirit of my brother is present with us, as he often is on family occasions. It is both a comfort and a sadness, and a reminder that it will be two years in January since he’s been gone, and my life broke from its old trajectory.
I have found that the nature of grief is to linger. Like a part of your body that underwent surgery, something is altered inside and will forever be subject to aches, pains, and reminders of the wound, even if time’s passage begins to make it fainter.
Some days I deceive myself into thinking that I’m used to this new reality of normal. Some days I believe it’s not deception, just acceptance of loss and the hard truth that I was never promised him forever — so I need to find gratitude for the time we did have. But other days, there is a jolting and jarring sense that this is not how I envisioned my life. I was never meant to be the only child melting into bitter-soft songs of grief’s sweet and gratitude’s grace over holiday dinner.
My experience of grief often feels like an ouroboros eating my own tail — a cycle of wholeness where I can’t tell where one thing ends and the next begins. At times, I still hurt so badly, I feel I am crawling through the barren, wasteland of grief I was forced to cross the first six months. And yet, it is because of losing Brent that I found myself at a fully-awakened space in life, where I had the courage to make profound changes to my life path and follow my soul calling.
Around and around these truths go, circling, chasing, completing one another. The same loss that ripped me to shreds being the very loss needed to force me to fully claim my life. My brother’s death wasn’t just a doorway and rebirth for him; it was a doorway and rebirth for me, too.
Brent comforts as he can. I feel his presence often. Sometimes he has things to say, sometimes he’s silent. He’s always loving. At times it’s difficult to have him too near, His spiritual presence has become so illuminated with joy and light that it contradicts the spaces where the physical reality of his loss hits deep, and I need to sink into the darker waters of my human grief for a while.
I don’t swim in those waters nearly as often as I did when it first happened, but I know my heart will always have the need to go there from time to time — revisiting, reviewing, remembering, re-evaluating my own relationship to loss, love, and all that has come to pass since he passed.
Our world is a contradictory place where we often want to keep things as they are, yet are given painful lessons that ask us to learn to release and let go.
Grief will teach equal measures of both. Part of you will want to grab, grasp, and hold onto the past, and the wish for a different timeline untouched by loss — what would life have looked like had this not happened? At the same time, you will be forced to move forward and do the work of acceptance, so you can grab onto the present day and build your life around the reality of what is.
Thanksgiving day, I do both. Grab and release; reminisce and rescind. We watch Forrest Gump, and I use the poignancy of the storyline as a reason to let the tears floating behind my eyes stream full down. I let myself float like the feather in the closing scene, reflecting with a bird’s-eye view on the scenes of my own life that have already transpired, and the ones that are yet to come.
The longer I drop deep into my own relationship with loss, I keep learning that you cannot spiritually bypass grief. I still feel my brother, sense my brother, talk to the spirit of my brother, and yet the magic of those experiences does not negate the abject loss I have or the hole it left in the heart of my family.
I can’t use the information that he is now the embodiment of love, to wipe out the tender and true feelings of devastation a sister holds in the winter of her heart. But I can be comforted by it. I can let it be a candle and warm hug in the cold of grief. I can honor how his human loss and his spiritual revelation have changed me, and I can honor the journey of my own becoming.
I can keep doing the work of grief, which is simply to feel and acknowledge whatever comes up and know those experiences of loss are real and true and valid. For that is what it means to be whole in our humanity, and that is how we grow our hearts — by holding the ache and the light in the same space and realizing they come from the same thing.
I grieve because I have loved, still love, will always love; heart’s ouroboros of divinity.
Some days, that love asks me to soar to the skies and talk to the stars, and see the glimpses of the mystery and miracle of the light of my brother’s soul-life. Some days, that love calls me to be a bridge and see the journey from soul to human to back again, and honor the path that we take. And other days, it calls me to just be human. A woman, who feels more like a little girl missing her brother, sitting around the dinner table, remembering him, wishing he was there in person.
Instead, I feel him lingering close by, smiling at the love in the room, and the pleasing scent of mom’s mashed potatoes.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom.
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