This Is What Good Grief Actually Is

A thoughtful man with a notebook sitting on a pile of firewood
Ben White / Unsplash

Good grief. Despite it being inherently oxymoronic, there is such a thing. 

When a moment of pain eclipses all of your other understandings in life – whether it’s losing a loved one to the fragility of mortality, or your career taking a nosedive due to factors beyond your control, or your home falling victim to fate, or your significant other jumping on your heart in Stilettos with both feet – you will be left with an oozing scab. It stings, it bubbles over, and it is very noticeable to those around you. That grody, skeevy scab is fragile as a flan. It can be flaked off entirely with relative ease at the mention of her name, or the idea of a fire, or the continued spark of a thrashed ambition, or driving past a place in which you and your late cousin would smoke bowls.

Nothing will heal it, it seems, so you put a band-aid on it. You hide it from the world. We’ve all been there: throw that band-aid on over a cut from slicing a bagel and a week later the band-aid comes off in the shower and your finger is pink and raw and your cut has been infected.

If you hide something and keep it away for however long, you’ll only let it fester. 

Ain’t no band-aid in the world gonna heal your cuts and scrapes without the aid of an ointment. A bacitracin. A Neosporin. A kiss from your momma. That’s the shit that fixes you up. In my life, that ointment has been good grief: The healthy way to miss that which is no more. Good grief is an active experience; you can’t harness it passively. You make the decision to rage against the pain coursing through your life.

The good grief is taking the time to think about that which has left, and remember why whatever or whomever it was made an impression. Remember the initial moments of abject joy walking through the front door of the first home you bought, and assign those memories to that subject, instead of the memories of riding down the street to find the fire department surrounding your hearth and home, burning to embers, smoke becoming memory. Remember the moment in your career when someone’s life was enhanced by your ethics and diligence, not the moment of finding out that your contract had been abruptly canceled thanks to the network’s opinion on your personal aesthetic changing like the wind. Remember sitting knee to knee on a bench with someone who made you feel like the only person in the world, not your tearful goodbye over stale empanadas. Remember the time in the basement playing charades that she made you laugh so hard your throat hurt for a week, not the last time she said goodbye to you from the hospital bed.

Good grief is harder than a grudge. People often think if something hurts that it’s someone else’s fault. People think that someone or something is doing it to you. But that ain’t it. When something hurts, it means something was good. The hurt probably never goes away, so make sure you never forget where it came from. TC mark

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