Sunday, December 20, 2015

Good Grief.

Grief is a funny thing.

It reminds me of when you're going out and you can't tell what the weather is going to do, so you bring a coat just in case. Some of the time, you're happy you have that coat -- you put it on, zip it up, thank yourself for bringing it. But the rest of the time, you're just lugging around this extra piece of clothing and there's nothing you can do about it. You can't set it down anywhere and it's very present and sometimes you catch other people looking at it and you want to say, "I didn't know what the temperature was going to be, okay? So I brought this and honestly, I'm probably going to need it later."

"But Emily," you say, wondering if there's going to be a recipe at the end of this post (spoiler alert: no). "A coat is ultimately a good thing and grief is terrible so what the hell are you trying to do with this clumsy analogy?" First of all, calm down, don't be mean. It's the holidays.

Second... grief is not terrible. Grief isn't terrible when you are absolutely required to feel something. Losing someone so close and so important has turned me into a ball of feelings -- like a holiday cheese ball, but filled with sadness and loss and coated in anger instead of... nuts? You guys, I love cheese, but I don't like or trust a cheese ball. Is that insane? Are they, in fact, coated with nuts?

There is no emotional outlet. I drive around the chain of lakes in Minneapolis -- the same familiar route I've taken countless times to process everything from college applications to relationships to improv shows -- I drive around the lakes and my eyes fill up with hot, stinging tears and my throat tightens. In the past, I could be various shades of sad and mad AT something -- Northwestern University, Peter, a pretty rough improv set, for example. But this time, there is no target. Just feelings. Sometimes they come out sideways, and I get mad at my cardigan for being wrinkled or the driver in front of me for not pulling over and letting me pass when they want to go 5 mph around Lake Calhoun.

And that's when grief isn't terrible -- it's welcomed. Because I can take a deep breath and say, "Oh, this is grief. What I'm feeling is grief. Here's a label and a box for it." ...Like when you finally learn what a cheese ball is and you can identify it on a table of hors d'oeuvres and move on.

You never choose grief, because it follows closely behind a great loss. But when it's chilly, it's pretty nice to zip up that coat. I'm thankful I brought it. It's only a burden when I have a rare moment of unexpected joy or laughter -- because there's that fucking coat, and the reminder that I had to bring it in the first place, and the temperature is probably going to drop later.

(#thankful and #blessed to be writing from a cold climate where I can really settle into this winterwear metaphor!)

My heart physically aches and I don't recognize myself. I feel quite literally supported by the good friends who have emailed and texted to send their thoughts and love. So, yes, I'm not falling over, but I'm not okay. The only thought that helps a little bit when it's extra cold and I can't stop doing that special kind of sob that feels almost primal, it's so guttural and deep -- the only thing that helps a little bit is this incredibly vivid image I have of my dear friend Samantha tapping my arm and saying, "Sweetheart, it's okay. I'm fine and actually? This place is really neat!" This could be grief working its magic OR Samantha IS right there, in my ear, there but not. I'm putting stock in the latter because... how cool is that?

I'm helping to plan a party for Samantha on her birthday, December 28, at HUGE Theater. If you're in Minneapolis, stop by!

Wrapping this up for now. In the words of Samantha, how she ended every improv class, "Questions, comments, complaints? No? Praise and adoration!" <3


  1. That is a beautiful reflection on grief, and such a wise understanding of it. I hope you keep writing about it, as you are moved. It seems that it helps you, and it is a beautiful gift to the others who read your words.

  2. I am sending it to my friend who lost his son ten years ago... And carries a huge coat this time of year. Thank you! The destination unknown of our loved ones gone is into a cosmic universe to be discovered, I tell myself.