Grief Doesn’t Change You, It Reveals You

seyed mostafa zamani / flickr.com
seyed mostafa zamani / flickr.com

I’ve never cried at any funeral I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to quite a few. The first one I can remember is my Grandma’s, on my mother’s side. She was elderly and had suffered through quite a few strokes, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when she passed. I remember passing by my grandmother’s room while my mother sat with her inside, waiting for her to die, and smelling the sickly sweet stench of flowers and medicine and grief. The smell lingered in the house for days after.

At the funeral, all my friends told me it was okay to cry, but I never did. Looking at her in the casket, she looked the most peaceful that I’d seen her in years. Why would I grieve for someone who had just been set free from the constant physical pain that was her life?

The second funeral I can remember was my godmothers. She passed away in a car accident, on a cold night in December. That bitter, encompassing ice-fog that surges over the hills of Central New York had done its damage and everything was slick with black ice. My god father lost control of the vehicle around a turn and the car ended up flipping over. He had to listen to his wife’s whimpers of terror and agony while he could only dangle there, waiting for help. I remember crying myself to sleep that night and waking up to my mother telling me that my godmother had finally passed due to internal bleeding.

The funeral was closed casket and she was laid to rest at a monastery in Arizona. I remember, again, the stench of the deceased. I remember watching my father cry for the first and only time in my life. I remember my godfather coming to the breakfast table the morning after; gaunt face and hollow eyes. I didn’t cry at that funeral either.

All this brings me to one of my favorite quotes by John Green, from his book The Fault in our Stars.

Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.

Has there ever been a quote so true?

When my god mother died, my father revealed his strength through what some would consider “weakness” — his tears.

When my ex-boyfriend’s dad realized that his son was going to live the rest of his life as an amputee, he revealed his grief’s weakness by what some would consider “strength” — remaining stony faced and hard hearted; lashing out at all those around him.

When my grandmother and godmother passed away I was sad, but I knew they were in a better, happier place. When my ex-boyfriend got run over by two cars and lost a leg in the process, I used the anger and grief inside of me to stay strong for him.

I find it fascinating to watch the way people react to grief. It tends to strip away whatever crudely constructed façade we’ve built around ourselves. It tears up the security blanket that we wear more and more as life becomes “normal” and “day to day”. Then suddenly, one day, something catastrophic happens, something that makes you feel like you’ve been stabbed to the absolute core of yourself. Will you let the heartache overcome you and render you incapable? Or will you, instead, rise from the ashes to smile in the face of death and sorrow and tragedy, powerful in the knowledge of your strength? TC mark

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