You know how when holidays come around, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, your emotions go on autopilot? There is so much to do; grocery shopping, meal prepping, wrapping presents, parties, and typically lots of family and friends. Sometimes it’s hard to process all the feelings that are associated or come about at those times of the year.
The same happens with grief. The last few months we have been deep in the planning of Charlie’s Carnival. It’s been challenging, beautiful and so productive to see the vision we have had for this event come alive. So many of our friends and neighbors were involved in the event. It consumed our days and our thoughts.
There was no space left for grief. Anytime I felt sadness or void where Charlie would occupy, my heart would drop. But stubborn as I am, I would tell myself. “Nope, there is no time for this. Swallow your tears and put grief in the box. You can open it later.”
This has been the standard operating procedure for me for the last month. For the first few days and maybe even a week, my ability to suppress grief wasn’t hard. I just didn’t let myself think about the loss. I almost pretended Charlie was away at his grandparents. He would be home soon. Then came the inability to look at his pictures sprinkled around our house, those that I would typically look at, smile, and remember something sweet about our son. I stopped looking at those pictures, knowing that it would trigger the emotions I didn’t have time for.
So images of Charlie were placed in that box, my mental box of grief. Again, telling myself I would deal with it later. Next came the discussions of Charlie, those that friends have with us in passing … “Oh Charlie would have loved …” “I remember when Charlie did…” Those conversations that I often crave and yearn to hear, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to. If you were someone who told me such a story or memory of Charlie in the last few weeks, I did a pretty good job of pretending to listen, but really those stories went in the box of grief.
And finally, as embarrassed as I am to even admit it, the worst thing I did was not talk to Ellie about Charlie. I didn’t ignore her when she spoke about her brother, but I didn’t engage her in the conversation which is something we ALWAYS do. Even writing that makes me so disappointed in myself. In fact, the night before Charlie’s Carnival, Michael commented, “We really haven’t talked to Ellie about the carnival. Do you think she is going to be confused? Should we explain it to her?” And my response, “Oh no, she is fine. She will just be excited for all the bounce houses and the face painting.” So I added that to the box as well along with all the other grief moments I didn’t let myself experience in the last month.
I’m sure I don’t need to point out the irony … but here we are. I have spent the last month working vigorously on Charlie’s Carnival and the last month incessantly trying not to think about Charlie. That is not a good combination.
So what happened next, I’m sure you can imagine … the box exploded.
This week, every emotion of grief has poured out into every part of my life. I’ve gone from comatose to raging mad, weepy to all out tears for which Michael has had to remind me to breathe. That’s what happens when you put grief in a box. Eventually it explodes. It’s taking me days to come through the density of this explosion. It’s been emotional, draining, and physically exhausting. And if I am being honest with myself, preventable. That’s the sucky part. Because I haven’t allowed myself the space to grieve, the grief took over all my space. And as a result, I have neglected my husband, my daughter, and especially Charlie.
Grief can not be placed in a box and expected to wait for you to be ready to experience it. It must a part of the life you are living. Grief is caused by loss. The feeling of true loss is caused by deep love. So grief is just continuing to love the person you lost even in their absence. Charlie deserves all that love and I want to give it, not place it in a box.