In the space below, draw yourself, and highlight where you feel your grief physically. (It doesn’t matter if you’re a shitty artist. Just put something on the page.) Is it an ache in your chest, a sinking in your stomach, a twisting in your head?
In the early days, I felt my grief in my chest. Always in my chest. Sometimes it was an ache, but more often, especially at first, it was a squeezing motion. It felt like a fist flexing in a space where it didn’t quite fit.
Maybe I’ve been around the block too many times. Maybe I’ve seen too many off-color movies and done too many off-color things. But when I tried to visualize the pain, I thought of a fisting with hands that are almost too large to accomplish the act.
The chest pain I felt was the kind of tight fit that causes discomfort not just to the fistee but to the fister. The kind of cramped that makes the hand ache and hurt, too. Except it was in my chest, in my ribcage, in my heart. Not in a place that was designed to have enough give to birth a child. But somewhere rigid and inflexible, where vital organs are kept. A place that, unlike the birth canal, isn’t designed to stretch and then relax after it’s been expanded.
Sometimes this physical grief felt like a heart attack. Other times like a panic attack. And at still other times, it felt like I’d developed a hernia suddenly. Or some kind of complicated ulcer, a wound that refused to heal and instead would flap open like old, worn out shoes that need to be replaced.
The pain was always getting stuck on its way to me. Not developing and then resolving predictably. But unfolding erratically and resolving the same way.
The pain demanded my attention by being irregular enough that I felt out of control, unable to adapt to it.
And then it would leave, without warning, leaving me to wonder if it had ever happened at all.
Three months in, where I am as I write this essay, it’s getting better now. Markedly. I’m not sure when I last felt the physical pain. But I think it will be a while before I fully forget it.
Anyway, this isn’t the first time someone close to me has died, but before this last time, I never know that grief could physically hurt so much.