We shouldn't have to grieve this much
Last week, I observed to my husband that Americans love to joke about dirty diapers as if that’s the hardest part of parenting. Older relatives poke fun at soon-to-parents about it. We invent cheesy baby shower games around pretend dirty diapers. My childfree brother-in-law jokes that while he can’t wait to finally meet his nephew, he’s not changing any dirty diapers! I get it. The endless stream of dirty diapers – the daily intimate contact with someone else’s bodily fluids – is such a visible part of the work, it’s easy to focus on. But three months into raising my son, it now strikes me as odd because diapers are the easy part. When I first mentioned this to my husband, I laughed wryly because I was thinking instead of sleepless nights, panicked calls to the pediatrician … diapers are, quite frankly, so simple compared to those things.
But I was wrong about those things too. They are hard , but they aren’t the hardest thing, at least for American parents. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve developed a certain level of numbness when I read about another mass shooting. This week, though, the awful string of them broke me. My maternity leave just ended, and I tried to work because I didn’t know what else to do. Instead, I ended up clutching my baby to my chest and sobbing over my lunch break thinking about the families who are grieving this week. I lost my mother to disease, not gun violence, so I can’t fully understand what those people are going through. But I do know how grief blows up your life, how you are left to pick up the pieces when the rest of the world moves on. It makes me sick knowing that no place is safe – not the grocery store, or church, or the movie theater, or even school. Holding my own precious child to me in fear and rage, I thought, this is the hardest part.
I am raw and hollowed out this week. This should not happen. We should not have to grieve this much. I know I am stating the obvious, but I think it’s worth giving the primal scream of grief and rage some air because it’s doubly cruel when our grief goes unexpressed and unacknowledged. I read this quote in the newsletter “Poor Man’s Feast” today, and I’m holding it close:
Grief is subversive, undermining the quiet agreement to behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. There is something feral about grief, something essentially outside the ordained and sanctioned behaviors of our culture. Because of that, grief is necessary to the vitality of the soul, writes Francis Weller in The Wild Edge of Sorrow.
In 2020, I returned to work less than a week after my mother died. I simply didn’t know what else to do. I look back now and realize how insane that was, how I tried to fit my grief into something resembling normal when normal was so out of reach. Now, almost two years later, I am learning and trying to be unruly. And I am willing to let my grief for our country make me even more so.