Grief: In The Words of Others

I’ve collected quotes all my life.

I think it was second grade when I started a notebook dedicated to them-carefully copying out the words of others that spoke the truths of my own heart. Although the topics which draw me are different now, I’m still collecting them.

So here are fifteen quotes on grief that I hope will help another heart:

I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache and about lying awake.’

That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.

I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Rather often I am asked whether the grief remains as intense as when I wrote. The answer is, No. The wound is no longer raw. But it has not disappeared. That is as it should be. If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over.

Grief is existential testimony to the worth of the one loved. That worth abides. So I own my grief. I do not try to put it behind me, to get over it, to forget it… Every lament is a love-song.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

Anne Lamott

They say time heals all wounds, but that presumes the source of the grief is finite

Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

What an awful thing then, being there in our house together with our daughter gone, trying to be equal to so many sudden orders of sorrow, any one of which alone would have wrenched us from our fragile orbits around each other.

Paul Harding, Enon

This was how to help a family who has just lost their child. Wash the clothes, make soup. Don’t ask them what they need, bring them what they need. Keep them warm. Listen to them rant, and cry, and tell their story over and over.

Ann Hood, The Obituary Writer

I guess I always thought it would be bigger, when a terrible thing happened. Didn’t you think so? Doesn’t it seem like houses ought to be caving in, and lightning and thunder, and people tearing their hair in the street? I never – I never thought it would be this small, did you?

Dan Chaon, Stay Awake

There are no words, not in English, Spanish, Arabic, or Hebrew, that have been invented to explain what it’s like to lose a child. The nightmarish heartache of it. The unexplainable trepidation that follows. No mother loses a child without believing she failed as a parent. No father loses a child without believing he failed to protect his family from pain. The child may be gone, but the years the child were meant to live remain behind, solid in the mind like an aging ghost. The birthdays, the holidays, the last days of school—they all remain, circled in red lipstick on a calendar nailed to the wall. A constant shadow that grows, even in the dark. As I was saying…there are no words.

D.E. Eliot, Ruined

Words For a Wounded Heart

I cling fast to words that speak aloud what I’ve only thought.

I collect sentences that eloquently express what I can only feel.

I pull them out on days when my head and heart are doing battle and I can’t find any middle ground.

Reading reminds me I’m not the first soul to travel this way.

Others have been here before and left breadcrumbs.

A friend said, “Remember, he’s in good hands.” I was deeply moved. But that reality does not put Eric back in my hands now. That’s my grief. For that grief, what consolation can there be other than having him back?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

The promise that I will one day see Dominic again makes the pain bearable. But it does nothing to treat the essential wound. He is not here and I will miss him, miss him, miss him until I draw my last breath.

The worst type of crying wasn’t the kind everyone could see–the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No, the worst kind happened when your soul wept and no matter what you did, there was no way to comfort it. A section withered and became a scar on the part of your soul that survived. For people like me and Echo, our souls contained more scar tissue than life.”
― Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits

Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits

I never knew a person could cry every day for months. Not just a tiny overflow that falls sweetly down a cheek but gigantic gut-wrenching, ear-shattering sobs. That was what I hid from everyone-the pillow-over-my-mouth-to-muffle it-crying in my room in the dark.

Maybe we all do.

Maybe that’s why those untouched by child loss don’t really know how much it hurts and for how long.

grief is a house
where the chairs
have forgotten how to hold us
the mirrors how to reflect us
the walls how to contain us

grief is a house that disappears
each time someone knocks at the door
or rings the bell
a house that blows into the air
at the slightest gust
that buries itself deep in the ground
while everyone is sleeping

grief is a house where no one can protect you
where the younger sister
will grow older than the older one
where the doors
no longer let you in
or out

Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere

When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, he was living on his own. He’d been out of the house for a couple of years.

So I was utterly unprepared to find his earthly absence echoed in the house from which he had already been absent. Everything changed, everything was slightly askew.

And it is “a house where the younger [brother] will grow older than the older one”.

For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I remember being surprised the first time I circled back around in my grief and revisited places in my heart I thought I had subdued and conquered.

But that’s how it is.

Grief has so many layers that I honestly don’t believe we could survive it at all if forced to peel them back all at once. So I’ve resigned myself to the fact I will come back to many of the same sore spots over and over.

I do feel like I’m spiraling upward. Each time I circle around, I’m better equipped to face the fear or guilt or sorrow or despair.

The phases recur, but I’ve grown in the meantime.

I’m stronger.

I’m wiser.

I’m more resilient.

And I’m still here.

Eight Grief Quotes That Help My Heart On Hard Days

I’m kind of selective in what memes I toss around.

I don’t usually share them unless I can agree wholeheartedly with them.

But sometimes a meme is the simplest and most effective way to communicate truth.  And sometimes I just need a quick lift on a hard day. 

So here are a few I like:

mixed stages of grief

Grief is not a smooth path up and out of the pit of despair, it’s a tangled mess of thoughts, feelings and physical manifestations.  Grief is WORK.  So, so much work.

grief not a disorder

Grief is not abnormal.  It is not weakness.  It is the natural response to loving someone who is no longer within reach.  There aren’t any shortcuts on this journey.

grief lasts longer than sympathy

This is a hard one.  People mean well but unless they have lost a child (or experienced other significant loss) they just don’t realize that grief lasts a lifetime.  What is a date on the calendar for everyone else-a finite experience with an endpoint-is an ongoing reality for us.

Sympathy will not outlast grief.  The friends who stick around are the ones who understand that.  They choose compassion-which lasts forever.  

grief only exists where love lived first

Another way to say it is “Grief is love unfinished”.  Grief isn’t something conjured up by a heart.  It’s the natural expression of love when the object of that love is no longer available.  Grief IS love.  So it’s no wonder a parent will grieve the rest of his or her life.

give yourself space to do the work grief requires

You cannot do the work grief requires without setting aside time and space to do it.  Running away, stuffing and distraction seem like real options but they aren’t.

Grief will not be denied. 

It will not be ignored. 

So face it. 

Do the work it takes.

grief jumps out least expect it

No matter how long it’s been, grief will still surprise you.  Tears at the most inopportune moment, memories washing over you like waves, joy and sorrow meeting when the camera flashes.  That’s OK.  Let it roll.  Feel it.

its ok to ask for help

It’s not only OK to ask for help, it’s vitally important to ask for it.  NO ONE can bear the burden of grief alone.  People around you might not realize that or might not know how to help.  ASK.  Get counseling if you need to.  Get practical household help if you need to.  Take medication if you need to.  There is nothing shameful in asking for and receiving help.  

one step at a time necklace

Finally, rest assured that there is really no way to face this life in the Valley except to simply take it one step-sometimes one breath-at a time.  Looking too far down the road will only discourage you.  Perseverance IS the victory, dear heart.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  It’s not a sickness that can be “cured”It’s a heart condition that must be acknowledged and impacts life every single day.  

Sometimes when I’m having an especially hard day, I have to remind myself of all these things.  

It helps me.  

I hope it helps you too.  ❤