Support makes grief a little more bearable

There are some things that we have to learn by doing and others we try to teach that really can’t be taught.

My sixth-grade yearbook has pledges of “friends forever” scrawled throughout. But friendships aren’t forever. They take tending and care, or they’ll wind up like the perennial garden I carved out of the forest, smothered beneath thriving blackberry bramble.

And I’m still a bit perplexed by the hours and hours I spent at a Lamaze class learning how to give birth. When the time came, my body was like a train leaving the station and I was a passenger along for the ride. Why don’t we spend hours preparing for what happens when you leave the hospital?

How about marriage? Although I was taken aback by the unromantic ruminations our pastor slipped into our wedding sermon, I am now grateful for his honesty when he told us to be prepared for just how ordinary marriage can seem at times. He could have taken that thought one step farther and dispelled another myth — that life’s greatest moments are found in the extraordinary. I’ve realized that some of my most extraordinary experiences occur in “ordinary” moments. After all, isn’t the word “extraordinary” just extra of the ordinary?

But the greatest misnomer of them all is “grief management” — how to manage losing someone you love.

Last February I lost my sister. I shared her nine-month exodus through writings sent to family and friends. I have not written a single word from my heart since the period at the end of her obituary. That is, until now, and these are the words that have been tumbling around inside me like rocks in a stone polisher: Grief can’t be managed like a business or household. No one tells you that the ways you usually cope with sadness may be rusted up like a bike left out in the rain. No one told me that the hardest days of my grief would hit months after my sister’s departure. That making soup would somehow spur on my sadness; that every pot of soup I’ve made since my sister’s death would contain tears of grief. That mother’s day was no longer about mothers but motherless children. And then there is the inexplicable alteration of my personality, a people person by nature suddenly craving time alone and avoiding celebrations and parties.

If you have to go through grief, I hope you do so on an island. Specifically, Vashon Island. Much has been written about how this community comes together in a crisis to move mountains. But what about when the crisis has abated or, as it were, the memorial service is over? As our family has put one foot in front of the other these past several months, we’ve each been carried along by the current of a supportive community — by a knowing look, a hug, a heartfelt inquiry into how we are doing, by understanding and patience as we slowly return to ourselves.

I know our situation is not unique — that this story repeats itself over and over again on the Island. Through your doing we’ve learned that although grief may not be manageable, it is most certainly bearable. And at some point in the healing process, we wake up one morning and we realize that the day feels different from the rest. That a shift has taken place!

Instead of being carried along, we are ready to do our own lifting. Instead of being supported, we feel ready to support. We have the energy to write or run or paint or whatever it is that was dammed up inside. Most importantly, we have the ability to see beyond our own grief to others who need support. So we join the current of a community of givers and pass along the kindness that helped us heal.


—Mary Kay Rauma is an Island writer and mother of two.


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