Grief’s backpack

Grief is not something you “get over.” It’s something you get under.

Someone has loaded a backpack of rocks and has placed it on your back. At first you’re not sure how to undo the straps, so it’s easier to just sit down and let the chair hold some of the weight. If you’re lucky, someone you love will pick up the bottom to give your shoulders a break once in awhile.

Soon enough, you’re accustomed to the weight. You’ve gotten stronger from holding it, and you can start to walk again, slowly at first, until you’ve built up more strength. Sometimes you find yourself enjoying the heft of the bag, the same weight as your child was in your arms. You learn, eventually, how to undo the straps. One day, you slowly slip off the backpack and take a breath, roll your shoulders. But you pick the bag back up because it’s been with you for so long – you’ve formed a bond with it. You’ve grown fond of the feel of the pressure on your back, how the weight slows your steps so that you see more of what’s around you. People treat you differently, more gently, when you’re wearing your special backpack. You recognize and nod at others with backpacks as they pass by.

At some point, someone gently suggests that it’t maybe not healthy to keep carrying the backpack. It’s an inanimate object, after all. It can’t love you back. It has made you stronger, but now your back is starting to bend, your shoulders to ache. You’ve fallen behind the group; those who have been walking with you are starting to skip ahead, only returning, reluctantly, when they notice you’re still trudging at the back. So you put the bag down again. And take a step away. You remind yourself: that bag is not my child. That bag may FEEL like my child, but it’s just a bag of rocks. My child is weightless, air, a breath in my soul, in my heart.

You take another step.

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