Shortly after my mother died, a coworker asked me about grief: “What does it feel like?”
I remember looking at her and feeling confused. What does it feel like…?
Words like “terrible”, “awful”, “really sad”, and “numb” didn’t seem quite right. Elements of all those adjectives were true, but none of them captured the fine texture of grief.
“It feels like… a really bad breakup,” I finally said. As the words came out of my mouth I realized that wasn’t quite right. It was also an inane comparison.
“Huh,” she answered.
Nine months later, I found words to describe my grief: It feels like my heart is falling.
During moments of stillness, those spaces between exhalations and inhalations, I feel my heart physically dropping. It is an endless fall; there is no bottom.
I remain surprised with how close to the surface the grief lives. I don’t cry when I talk about my mother’s death. Yet, when people ask me about her, I feel my face scrunching up the way faces do when people are about to cry. The sensations in my face remind me of that week she was in the hospital, when I smiled during the day and wept at night, asking God and the Universe questions that nobody could answer.
Though the tears do not come, my face suggests they will. And I know that the person listening to me sees it. It’s like when you blush: You feel your cheeks flash with heat and hope that the other person won’t make fun of you for it.
Emotions always shift, though: Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I set an imaginary table and place a pot of steaming tea and two cups on it. I invite Grief to sit down and have tea with me. Grief never declines. I ask Grief how it is doing. Grief never says anything in response, but we sit in silence and enjoy our tea together. When Grief is ready, it leaves.
And then I notice that my heart is no longer falling.
Almost 11 months have passed since my mother died. Since I found words for my grief, my heart doesn’t feel like it is dropping as often. Maybe the time I needed has elapsed; maybe the sensation of my heart falling doesn’t overwhelm me as much as it used to.
Maybe by showing Grief some kindness and acceptance with imaginary tea it has also shown kindness to me.