“I need your help . . . without you, I don’t know how to be me.” This post, addressed from a mother to her daughter, came across my Facebook feed this past October. Less than two months earlier this daughter, the mother’s only child, had passed away from leukemia, just shy of her 14th birthday.
Say what you will about the coldness of online communication, but here was a case where technology was no shield for human emotion. Grief spilled through the keys and could be felt, in every direction, for miles and miles and miles.
In the weeks following, I became repeatedly humbled by this particular mama’s ability to open herself up. She sprinkled her feed with photos and dreams and stories and laments. I happen to be a believer in vulnerability, so I quietly cheered her on for having the guts to express herself so candidly. (She owed the rest of us nothing, of course. All grief is personal, and nobody but the person living it gets determine what feelings need to arise, when, or how.)
Still: Oh, how I wish we could all learn to “craft love from heartbreak,” as researcher-storyteller Brene Brown outlines in her 2-minute video, Manifesto to the Brave and Brokenhearted. I’m grateful for Brown’s relentless work in encouraging us all to embrace vulnerability more.
Last month, another friend published a Facebook post about grief. This time, it was a poem about how she’d moved through mourning over the course of several years. Fortunately, she later posted the piece, What I’ve Learned About Grief, on her blog Sheri Hoeger’s Art to Live By. Hoeger’s words inspired me right away, as she’d managed to verbalize things I wouldn’t have thought to say myself.
So, as I’d undertaken before during a friend’s hardship, I did the only thing I knew how: I made something with my hands. Hoeger’s words struck me as a great match for the keepsake-box project that had been swimming in my brain ever since glimpsing the tutorial I’d found online.
Perhaps what struck me most about Hoeger’s piece was that that its paragraphs didn’t necessarily have to be absorbed in linear fashion. Rather, its segments could be cut apart and savored, one by one. They could be placed on cards, each decorated with its own special fabric. Like memories of a loved one, the words could be delivered in fragments that have no chronology.
My hope was that the recipient of my comfort box (yes, the mother from earlier in this story) could choose to take in Hoeger’s bits of comfort as she felt ready. Sometimes she might feel moved to read them all. Other days, she might respond to just one. Who knew? Maybe she’d feel compelled to put a little card in her purse as a secret special reminder, just for an afternoon.
Regardless, it felt good to make it. Perhaps it was a partly selfish act, my own vain attempt DO SOMETHING about a situation I can’t control. I love words and all, but sometimes my brain comes up short, and my hands are the only ones who can take over and create.
If you’re experiencing grief this holiday season, I hope you know it’s okay to be patient with yourself. I hope you know your vulnerability isn’t weakness (thank you, Brene Brown), and that you can find the courage to express it however is right for you. I hope somehow, some way, this day, this night–whatever your individual story may be–you can find a tiny box of comfort of your own.