Think of grief as a siege. Despair has you surrounded and outnumbered. Your defenses are stretched thin; whatever way you cope leaves you vulnerable because there’s too much despair for too much time. Try to carry on normally for too long and you’re harboring the pain instead of dealing with it, but dealing with the pain makes carrying on feel like a depressing, pointless slog. And despair isn’t just sitting at the gates waiting for you to give up. It’s growing â€“ invading your thoughts, taking the little bits of normalcy you still have and making every effort to break your ranks.
Examples: this week a friend of mine saw his young son through a surgery; everything turned out OK. Two other friends became parents to a beautiful little boy of their own. And I know (the grief books all say this) that despair wants me to be jealous of them, to turn against them because their families had good fortune and mine didn’t. It wants me to look at those kids as two more reminders of loss â€“ of my losses. And it wants me to think that if I just give in to those feelings that I won’t hurt anymore. Because it wants to find a way to break my defenses.
But I also know that in a siege, defense is about making the most of limited options. Medieval castles put up walls and moats, shot arrows out at the invading forces, stocked months’ or even years’ worth of supplies, but these weren’t designed to defeat the enemy outright. They were really just holding on, maybe until reinforcements could come, maybe until the attacker’s supplies ran thin, but holding on – just trying to keep the enemy out as long as they could.
So I’m going to use the defenses I have. I have my family â€“ two beautiful children and one wonderful Sonya. I have friends and loved ones who talk with me, support me, laugh and cry with me, help me keep it together. And my friends’ kids? They’re not reminders of loss but of hope â€“ the hope I had for my kids and for theirs. The hope that all of our children end up happy and healthy and loved. We’re all on that side together, and knowing that helps me remember that despair’s offer – to turn to jealousy and away from love – isn’t much of an offer at all.
Fighting back isn’t easy, and the chance of success is pretty low, but what else can I do? I have to hold out as long as I can.