Learning from Grief

It too is the breath of life

Picture a child’s balloon. Bright, colorful. The very symbol of good cheer, parties—being happy. Like the best objects of play, it is simple and wondrous. Brought to life, magically it seems, through the breath—a thing both invisible and essential—and the mysterious grown-up skill of tying a knot.

Then the delights! The challenge of keeping it in the air, with just a gentle tap and some quick-footed movements as it sails this way and that. The thrill of seeing it floating high in the air—in a supermarket, perhaps, where it can turn a dreary chore into something wonderful. The power of having it follow one about, seemingly effortlessly—held, always precariously, by hand or, more comfortingly, tethered to a small wrist.

My children used to draw faces on theirs. Yet with or without eyes, nose, and mouth, a balloon seems to take on the quality of being alive. It is a thing to be held onto, like a snowman, even as it grows smaller by the day. I can never just throw it out, or deliberately pop it, when the breath of life is still in it.

But into every life, young and old, comes a moment when the balloon pops.

kid w:balloon

And then, more often than not and—depending on temperament and those powerful influencers of mood: tiredness, sugar intake, frustration level—there are hysterics, or, worse, quiet tears. Of course, the child’s balloon, like the fallen ice cream cone, can be easily replaced. But that’s not the point. That’s never the point. No matter what the reasoned grown-up voices say, there is always the feeling, the genuine experience of loss.

It is this sense of loss that lives nearest my heart these days—for a reason far bigger than a popped balloon (though a child, I suspect, would disagree.) For a reason that, even a year later, is difficult to say: the loss of my mother.

I opened to this grief when I had no choice, when it overtook me. Then, in recent months, I tried to set it to the side. To get on with life, as it were. Doing my work, and doing the laundry. Being present for my kids, and present for others. Learning to swim.

But grief beckons again. Its power is bigger than my intentions. And it has, I know, important things to teach me. That’s the way it is with grief. So now the challenge is to create the space and time to let it out, if only a little. To let it breathe, and breathe through me.

For it too is the breath of life.



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