Grief is a Liar

I think I know why Death wears a hood.

It isn’t, like many of us think, so that we fear him.   Or so that he is able to keep his face from being recognized too soon.   I don’t think the hood has to do with either of those things.

I think Death wears a hood for reasons that have nothing to do with us.

I think he wears his hood so that, when he approaches us with his arms outstretched, he doesn’t have to see us look at him in disbelief.  I think he wears a hood so that when he carefully and gently takes the hand of our person, he doesn’t have to see what it does to us.  So that he doesn’t have to see the pain.  I think he wears his hood so he doesn’t have to watch us drop to the ground with our hands over our faces.  He wears it so he can muffle out the sounds of screaming.

Death wears his hood so he doesn’t have to listen to anymore pleas for “one more hour. ” For one more minute.  For one more second.   It’s so he doesn’t have to hear people who used to shrink from him…beg, for the first time in their life, to go with him.  To ask if they can follow him.  To ask if he would be so kind as to take them instead.

He wears his hood so we can’t hear his voice break as he whispers, “I’m so, so sorry.  I don’t understand this either,” as he leaves.

I bet he wears his hood because his job breaks his heart.

And I would bet, that as he slowly walks away from us, Death pulls his hood up tighter so he doesn’t have to look Grief in the eye as she strolls past him towards the ones left back in life.

And I bet, with all my heart, that Death shuddered and hid even deeper under his hood once he looked over his shoulder six months ago and saw Grief crouching next to me.  And I bet he watched with a heavy heart as she leaned in and began to whisper the first lie she tells us all:

That she is here on behalf of Love.

Grief whispers that where there was great love, there must now be great pain.  She says this many times, so eventually it begins to make sense.   And we naively begin to accept that, for the rest of our life, this love will always have to hurt.  Because it should hurt.

And with this, we begin to trust her… so we lay at her feet with our hearts open, and ask to hear more.

So Grief tells us a bigger lie.  She tells us that what happened…the accident, the sudden heart attack, the cancer…that it was personal. That what happened to our person doesn’t actually happen to anyone else.  Not like this.  She tells us that our tragedy was designed specifically for us and us alone.  That these things “don’t just happen.”  They happen to us.

She tells us that Death comes for our person because the world has a personal stake in our unhappiness

This is where the anger, like a fever, begins to settle in.  And grief, stoking the flames continues and says quietly:  “You should be jealous of everyone else.”  

This is the lie that turns the spark of anger you had been holding back, into an inferno. 

It’s the lie that makes us look at other people’s happiness and say: They don’t deserve what they have.  They don’t really love one another.  They will never have what I had.  They will never understand.  

This lie turns us against the world around us and tries to lay waste to the friendships and relationships that had always sustained us.  And the anger feels good.  Because Grief knows that righteous anger always does.   

And after Grief begins to chip away at the relationships you still have here, she turns her sights on your relationship with your person.

And asks one simple question:  What makes you so sure they loved you? 

She brings up the fights you got into. The words you threw at one another like weapons when you were arguing.  She brings up the times you chose to get off the phone early for no real reason.  The times you rolled your eyes at them instead of giving them the hug you know they needed.  The times you thought you might be happier with someone else.  The times you thought that they would be happier with someone else.   She reminds you of all the time you wasted.

She makes you question your worthiness, your goodness, the happiness you brought them.  She makes you minimize the good times and think only about the bad times.  You can’t remember the love you gave them because you’re too busy replaying the pain you know you caused them on a loop in your head over and over and over.

And she doesn’t whisper her lies anymore, she shouts them at you over and over and over again until, with your back against the wall, you finally start doing her job for her and, looking Grief in the face, you tell yourself the biggest lie of them all:

That they’re really gone.  

That all you can do when someone dies is grieve them.   There is nothing more.  Just a cold, growing, empty space between your life back then with them, and your life right now without them.

You tell yourself that there is nothing more of them left here for you to love.  Death took it all.  And all you are left with is Grief who will walk next to you in your person’s place.

And Grief nods.

So you take Grief’s hand and begin to walk forward knowing that, yes…this love will always hurt.  And suffering will always find you.  And Grief sits silent for the first time and smiles.

But in that silence comes a voice from a lifetime away.  It’s so quiet at first, that you’re certain you’re hearing your own thoughts inside your head.  The voice, unlike Grief’s, doesn’t sound real.  Couldn’t be real.

But it seeps in somehow… from the cracks of the most broken places of your heart that only one person…your person…knew about.   Because they were the only person who you ever allowed to see those dark and broken parts of you.      

And it’s from those broken places that your person, after trying for so long to be heard over Grief, is able to finally get their message through and say…

My love, she’s lying. 

Death didn’t take me;  Death doesn’t take any of us anywhere we don’t want to go.  He simply explains that just as we made choices in life, we can make choices in death.  So I chose to stay with you.  How could I choose differently?

Why would I leave you here? Can’t you see that everything that has ever happened… happened to get me to you and you to me.  Stars were born and stars died.  Continents shifted, oceans froze, mountains moved so that one day we would be here together…even if just for a few years.  How could death take that away?  

I’m sorry.  I couldn’t stay in that body.  But I’m here.  Don’t let her walk in my place. Please: don’t listen to her.   I’m right here.  

And that’s when the landscape shifts.  When Grief feels you loosening your hand on hers, and she, for the first time, looks confused and says:  you can’t let go of me…that isn’t a choice.  If you don’t grieve them, you never loved them.  

And on hearing that, you realize for yourself, plain as day, that Grief…Grief is a liar.