Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Loss, Grief and What Comes Next

Since Sunday, I have eaten two milkshakes, chocolate peanut butter ice cream, a whole pizza, donut holes, two huge scoops of cheesy artichoke dip, and a lot of coffee, all on top of my normal three meals a day. That much is unusual, even for a pregnant me. I must be trying to eat the grief away.

Early Sunday morning, my co-worker died quite suddenly of complications from a cancer that she did not know she had until three days prior. Death is certainly never easy for those of us left behind, but deaths such as this leave me feeling scared and helpless. How does a 28-year-old woman leave us so quickly, with little warning? Should we be angry, or grateful that she left this world with little trauma? How do we begin to process so tragic a loss?

Grief strikes us all so differently, and in the midst of our own grief, we are surrounded by everyone else's. Navigating other people's sadness is difficult and exhausting; we want to do the right things and say the right things, but do not always know what those are. While we battle our own sorrow, our internal monologue is rapid-firing insecurities: what do I say? what do I bring? do I leave them alone or offer condolences? is it okay to laugh, or is it too soon?

Often, we compensate for these insecurities with food. We eat, just for something to do. We make food, because the bereaved need to eat. We gather to snack and drink, to draw comfort from a crowd. We stop eating, because it seems unimportant. We toast the memory of our departed, and try not to weep because it is their memory and not their presence that is left to us.

Eating also tethers us to our own existence, proof that we are still here even though our loved one is not. Alongside the constant eating of the last few days, I have also found myself hugging my children even more than usual, watching my husband sleep, and spending more time with my other co-workers to assure myself that they are still here. I think grief amplifies our human tendencies, if only because we need to subconsciously feel connected to this world that is now less one dear person.

The next few days promise to be a cyclone of more eating, a tearful farewell, and a transition from the freshest of griefs to a more subtle sadness, as the shock wears off and life pushes us to move on. I am comforted, though, that our workplace is an institution of history. We value the past and the stories of those who have come and gone. It is our instinct, then, to keep people's memories alive. Despite our grief, despite the nonsensical loss, we will surely do our best to honor the short life of our co-worker and friend and ensure that her history is not lost.

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