Be Gentle, For We Are All Grieving

Read this reflective narrative about dealing with grief and loss.

When her mother died, Stephanie began walking through grief. This is how that journey is connecting her to others who are dealing with losses of all sorts — and how it is softening her heart.

Grief is the loneliest feeling in the world because it signals something is lost that cannot return. It marks a broken relationship, an altered future — and it is final. Eight months ago, my mother died.

The strangest piece of this, I’ve found, is that it feels like no one will ever understand the ache in which I live — yet this feeling is one of the most common in human history. Everyone has lost someone or something or a career or a future or a home or a friend. It’s so common that grief is now being tackled by television in a very real way. 

Even Jesus lost Lazarus, and was so distraught that he brought Lazarus back. The story from the Bible is remarkably human: Jesus was so sad and angry that his friend died that he brought him back to life. Now there’s a Jesus with whom I can empathize.

I have grieved so many lost futures with my mother in the past eight months: seeing her at my wedding, holding my children, or finally teaching me how to cook the turkey I refused to touch because I thought it was gross. When I meet these thoughts, the wave of anger inside of my body crashes down so hard that eventually I have to give up thinking about the fragments of this future.

But there is something about the solidarity of grief that goes far beyond sharing it with my brother and father. 

Last month, a colleague from a job I had for three years in Los Angeles lost his dog. I only know about this because I saw the posts about the vet, the death, and the GoFundMe for her veterinary bills. Then came the post thanking hordes of our former colleagues for donating to help them honor Pepper. I watched the grieving for Pepper, this dog I’ve never met, owned by a colleague with whom I shared one or two buddy shifts. I watched as a passive recipient of the pain and loss my friend shared publicly. It moved me.

A dear friend finished his contract in Erbil, Iraq recently and returned to the States. Last week, the home in Iraq he had lived in for three years was hit by a rocket, and a colleague was killed. I ached for my friend, who was aching for his unit. This is tragedy on a grand scale — a man in the prime of his life, who left his family to give his time on Earth to serve in a very public, storied conflict, supporting Coalition forces in the Middle East. This is a man who went to war and died violently. It is one of the oldest stories humans have to tell, and one of the hardest to hold. In the middle of the destroyed barracks, between two candles, his colleagues placed a crucifix. This is hard, sharp, sudden grief.

At a minimum, we all experienced a softer grief during the pandemic when we lost the normal routines that connected us. The cancellation of show after show slowly ripped apart my colleagues in performance and the arts, a slow burn of constant disappointment. For most actors and opera singers like me, it has been a year of total professional loss. Though dwarfed by losing my mom, the loss of opportunities to sing for people lays thick on my bones. I spent a decade of my life training to perform, and the impact is felt much deeper than just the loss of income. It is a grief I share with millions of stage artists across the globe.

The strangest thing about losing a parent is that it is normal. People go through this all of the time. Every day, millions of people lose a parent. I often wonder at how this is possible, and yet things continue to move: goods are ordered, created, and shipped; teachers teach, chefs cook, trash is picked up, surgeries are performed. How does this happen? How do most people face the death of their mother, and then walk through that experience? They must find a way, otherwise our economy would shut down. People keep going. They keep living. They do.

Grief has many faces. It’s the loss of a dog. It’s a death on the front lines. It’s a career upended. They are uncomparable, and yet they equalize us. How I would love to pull a move like Jesus and say, No, not today — I’m not letting Lazarus go just yet. 

But I’m not Jesus. I’m a girl who lost her mom, who’s been made more tender because of this loss. Time is precious, nothing is certain, and everyone holds grief. Knowing this, perhaps the universal gift of grief is that it teaches us to encounter one another with softer hearts.

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