It was a bright, wintery Saturday. The three of us were crossing the Walmart parking lot and dodging stray carts. We had groceries to buy and errands to run before the premature setting sun brought our afternoon to a close. A troop of cheerful Girl Scouts flanked the entrance and waved a box at my toddler. Wow, those girls are good. Even though my baby had no way of buying cookies, they knew he was the key to selling the parents a box.
We have a routine with the Girl Scouts: we buy cookies on the way out, never on the way in. But today, before I even had a chance to tell them we’d buy a box later, I had to turn back. I needed to shed a few tears, and I needed the semblance of privacy my car provided.
It was three, going on four, years since my daughter died. I was in a good spot. I’d found my new normal, and the majority of my days were happy ones. But seeing those moms with their Girl Scouts showed me a future I wouldn’t be a part of. I’d never sit outside a store on a cold winter day and chat with other moms while our girls broke the number one safety rule by talking to every stranger they saw to convince them to buy a box of over-priced, addictive cookies.
The gravity of all I’d lost weighed down on me in a single moment.
Even if I had other daughters and other opportunities to sell cookies, buy prom dresses, or get pedicures, I would never get to reach those milestones with her. I would never have those experiences with that daughter. The sadness I was feeling was as fresh and raw as it had been in the beginning.
Those early weeks and months of grief were horrible. I’d come to think of grief as a horrible house guest. She gives no warning before flinging open the door, nor is there any indication of when she’ll leave. She keeps you up at all hours. She’s always underfoot or just around the corner ready to bombard you. You never get a moment to yourself.
Then, almost without you realizing it, she slips out the door for a few hours. She doesn’t hide behind corners anymore. You might not even realize she left until she returns to remind you that you’re out of Kleenex and haven’t bought any since her last visit. Grief is no longer a constant companion or even a frequent visitor. She’s mostly left you alone and drops on holidays and anniversaries. The unannounced visits become less and less and life starts to feel more normal, but she will drop in unexpectedly from time to time.
Grief was an unexpected visitor that afternoon, but she wasn’t unwelcomed.
I’ve learned to lean into her like a friend because when she visits, she brings something special with her: She takes me back in time. Grief closes the distance and space and makes it feel like just yesterday I lost my daughter, like it was just yesterday I was holding her in my arms instead of years ago. I get to be close to my baby again. That’s a beautiful thing.
She also brings an intensity of emotion that feeds my empathy. As time moves forward and I’ve found healing, my grief has become more abstract. But those fresh, unexpected encounters remind me how powerful and intimate grief is. She reminds me to be kind, gentle, and helpful to those just starting their journey because I remember what it feels like. Grief feeds my empathy, which is something I never want to lose.
I hope grief doesn’t visit often and that she never stays long, but I do hope she continues to visit. Grief isn’t an enemy or an unwelcome guest. She’s a friend that comes bearing unusual yet lovely gifts.