A Conversation with Grief

Image There’s no getting away from myself when Day’s incessant chatter quiets. After her shift ends and Night’s long shift begins. There’s no crawling out of my own skin and kicking it into a corner after the pitter-patter of feet, heading to bed, fade out. When phones are charging and message alerts have been switched to the “silent” mode. When TVs are clicked off. When dogs are sleeping. When cars are tucked inside garages and kids into their beds. There’s no scooping thoughts out of my head, or the ache out of my heart, like seeds from a pumpkin. There’s just me in the pitch-black of my kitchen, sitting by the glow of my computer, tasting the salt on my tongue from my own tears as I watch a slideshow a friend has put together for Rocky’s memorial. A slideshow I’d been dreading for weeks.

ImageForty-three years of my brother’s life are captured in frozen moments strung together as he grows up in front me. A newborn tucked against our mother’s chest. A one-year-old, enamored with toes he’s discovered on his baby feet. A toddler in a highchair, smearing chocolate cake on the tray. A five-year-old, clutching an orange Popsicle, my youngest brother nuzzled beside him, licking his own. Now six, he walks along a beach on a winter day, dressed in a snowsuit. In the next shot, he blows out ten birthday candles. In his teens and twenties, he gazes up at stars, dribbles a basketball, heads a soccer ball, slings arms around college pals, and kisses the cheek of his newborn son and years later, his daughter. His thirties and forties, a Balinese wedding, riding boats in Egypt, elephants in Thailand, motor scooters in Bali. Then there are pictures that mark beginnings before endings. My mother smiling with her son before her stroke, a wedding before a divorce, five siblings, arms around each other, before there were only four.

I reached a hand out (as I often do) to touch his face, to touch a moment that had passed at the same time the camera clicked.
My old pal Grief leaned over my shoulder, brushed my neck with his lips. “I’m here for you,” he said.

I turned, shined my light on him as he draped a black cape around my shoulders, mumbling, “You can wear this for the rest of your life if you choose as a reminder of how heavy I am.”

I sunk into the cape, felt its weight, tied it under my chin. “Yes,” I said. “It will remind me of all I didn’t do while my brother was alive. The trip to Thailand I didn’t take to visit him when I still had the chance. It will remind me of how he was taken away too soon.” I stroked the rough fabric of the cape. “I will wear this to remember all those moments I took for granted, because I thought I’d have more time.”

I wanted to bow at Grief’s feet, shine his boots and say, “I surrender.” But instead I said, “I want to go back to the person I was before.”

“You can search forever,” he said. “But you’ll never find her.”

I let out a sigh, relieved that I’d learned the truth. I drifted, remembering a piece of writing I’d been working on before February 14th at 3:30pm EST; the moment my brother left; the moment I wanted my soul to knock down the walls of my bone and skin and join him there on a fat downy cloud in the sun, dancing to his favorite Grateful Dead tune.

It was a night in January when life was just life and I thought I understood what it meant to have a hard day, the kind of day that stretched back into yesterday and dipped its toe into tomorrow. Snow fell hard and fast, the wind blew. I dressed in full Nor’easter gear and took myself and my thoughts and my endless day out into the night. I stood under the floodlights in the back of our barn, watched the snowflakes slice through the light.

Everything changes shape when you stare at it long enough.


Faces appear in stones,








animals in the clouds.





purchased minnows


There, under those lights, the snowflakes turned into sleek silver minnows, swimming through the air; their magic dissolved whatever “bad” had been in my day.




I stared Grief square in the eye, willing him to take on a new form. The beam of my flashlight stayed steady on his face, the lines of hopelessness etched into his skin, along his forehead, around his mouth. There, in his eyes, Joy gazed back at me, waving a thin-fingered hand and blew me a kiss.

“When will you come back into my life?” I asked her.

“I never left you,” she said. “Swim beneath the layers of who you thought you were. There’s someone new waiting for you there and I’ll be waiting for you there, too.”

I hit play on the slideshow. This time I looked into it, rather than at it. Listened into the music rather than simply to it. Something new emerged in the pictures.  I’d been given the gift to have Rocky as my brother—not ONLY for 43 years— but FOR forty-three years. I listened to the lyrics of his favorite songs. I shifted my beam of light on the Joy he brought to my life and everyone else’s life he touched rather than on the grief his death left behind. And it hit me. Grief and Joy are wedded; they’re one. Where there is joy there is grief. Where there is grief, there is joy. One is more predominant than the other at any given time, depending on which one we shine our light on.

“I get it,” I said.

“Yes,” Grief said. “Joy and I are partners. We’re here to help deepen your understanding of love, of life. You think I’m trying to crush you, but I’m not. You think I’m the one to be avoided, the one to run away from, the one to distract yourself from as though Joy is the only one who matters. Know me so you can know her. Feel me so you can feel her. You need us both. I help you to appreciate her more. She lives in the most ordinary moments—notice her. Pay attention—any moment can become minnows in the snow. We are both a gift in your life. I’m not about what you should have done or what you could have done or time that has slipped away. I’m about what you’ll do now with the time you have left. I’m here to show you that Joy is everywhere. Feel the grass beneath your feet. Watch a hummingbird suck nectar from a Lupine. Talk to a hurting friend and listen without distraction. Hold your mother’s hand and soak in the wails of a newborn. And remember: You can take that cape off anytime you’d like to.”

My brother and I shared moments that belong to us. They are mine. They are his.


They are our gorgeous-soaked memories and I’ll continue to shine my light on them.

Thanks, brother, for introducing me to Grief, another gift you’ve left behind. I’ll look for faces in the stones, animals in the clouds, and minnows in the snow.

36 thoughts on “A Conversation with Grief

  1. Susan, what can I say…Beautiful falls short. My tears flow for you all and I too will look for unseen treasures all around us.

    1. Thank you, Berry…I realized last night another gift my brother has brought me…helping me dig deeper and think about this life…I’m able to write from a deeper place because of his passing and there it was again…the marriage between grief and joy. I love you and look forward to our dinner:-) xo

  2. OH gosh I soaked in every word of this beautiful and powerful journey you took us on through your fragrant pictures of mourning. I ached for you and longed for you and eventually celebrated with you too. You have a gift with your spirit, your heart and your love. SO powerful. I am so deeply touched by your moving piece here.

    1. Chris,
      I’m humbled by your comment, which is so beautifully written…perhaps you should start a blog! I feel so honored and blessed that people are walking along this journey with me through these pieces. Thank you for being one of those people. Thank you for taking the time to write a comment. And thank you for taking the time to read them.

    1. Linda, thank you for this…you know Grief…I know, probably more deeply than me given your loss. Yesterday was the two month anniversary of his death…and it still feels like I found out yesterday. I do know there is joy all around me and some days I can embrace it and other days if feels just out of reach. I love you and hope each day, you mine for the joy in your life…this is what I will continue to do each day… xoxoxox

  3. I’m stunned. Grief and Joy are wedded! And I want to snuggle with you under that cape to meet them both until I learn what you learn.. I miss him dearly! Love you Susan..

    1. Amelia,
      I miss him dearly too. I talk to him all the time and truly believe he’s guiding my writing…I can feel him when I write. I love and miss you…those memories from Hong Kong are just another example of joy and grief co-existing at the same time. I will forever remember the time we spent together through the most difficult time in my life. I hope you make it to Maine some day and my door will be wide open. Love you! xo

  4. Oh Susan, this so wonderful and so you. Thank you for sharing this wonderful imagery. I needed to read this today.

    1. Tasha,
      You are the wonderful one…I love you dearly and am happy that whatever you took from this is what you needed in that moment. MISS you already!! xox

  5. When I was growing up, there was the catchy little tune I loved, “Joy, and Pain…like Sunshine, and Rain”. Yes, the two are inextricably intertwined, Susan. You’ll never be the same…but then again, do you want to be?


    1. Alissia…I love this…”Joy and Pain like Sunshine and Rain…it’s perfect! Give me a little time to think over your question…I know I can’t go back…it’s the forward that seems a little tricky…but I will…this I know for certain. Love you Passion lady!

  6. Susan this is stunning. You’ve found your way to that deeper place,
    where you can see sweetness in sorrow.
    Grief/Joy, Darkness/Light–Balance
    L xx

    1. Lisa,
      Thanks my friend…our conversation helped me to feel my way into that deeper place. Love you dearly and can’t express how grateful I am for you for offering me the space to talk it through with you…xo

  7. ******But instead I said, “I want to go back to the person I was before.”

    “You can search forever,” he said. “But you’ll never find her.”******

    The beauty and sadness, the light and dark flow everywhere inside this room as I read this.

    Can I say, I understand?

    Can I say, the void will not be filled?

    My sister was murdered in 2010 & the world shook, the sun diminished, the blood stopped flowing….

    but I am STILL HERE. I can’t believe it. I’m still here living without her.

    The joy and sadness—darkness and light have woven together (somehow)


    I loved this essay so so so much.

    I mourn with you.

    I hear your heart thumping inside this room.

    The love endures forever.


    1. Kim, first of all THANK YOU for finding me so I could find you and your blog! I have been thinking about writing a post of what NOT to say…but you beat me to it…I LOVED it. Ok…now…what I will say is I’m a therapist and have worked with women and families of domestic violence. Years ago I dated a guy whose sister was murdered by her boyfriend…and what I want to say to you is losing your sister is fucking hard enough…but to lose her this way I truly can’t imagine your tsunami of pain. I just can’t. My brother died suddenly…and the hospital does not know cause of death…we are waiting for autopsy reports. But he died in the hospital…not violently by another human hand. I got on your blog, then I looked your sister up and then I sat here and cried my eyes out for you, for your parents, for her kids and for HER! I am going to read all your posts. Thank you for leaving me a comment. Thank you for having the courage to write about the rawness and realness of your own pain and process and thank you for giving other women the courage to leave abusive relationships. I reach out my arms and heart to you…keep writing soul-sister…you’re touching and changing lives one word at a time. All my love to you, Susan

      1. As I read the words, my heart pulled the black cape tighter and tighter around me whilst the now so familiar tears streamed down my face acknowledging grief yet again, and then you shine with your words like the glorious sunrise we experienced our first morning in Bali, laughing and talking with Rocky on the porch all night. A reminder of joy that brought me to mindfulness of the moment, and those moments are mine. Thank you dear sister. I love you and am truly inspired by your words.

      2. Gayle….your comment…the memory…the sunrise…Rocky on the porch all night…let’s go back sister…for one more night…just one more night…I love you…thank you for resurrecting this beautiful early morning and time under the Balinese Sunrise with Rocky…xoxoxo

      3. A friend sent me your post on my Facebook.

        Your writing, rawness, talent, & beauty takes my breath away.

        I’m looking forward to being a small part of your universe.



      4. Well Kim, then…it’s mutual..I’m looking forward to being a small part of your universe as well…and to read your words, your courageous journey and your inspiration to others.
        Love back, Susan

  8. Beautiful piece of writing, Sue. I wish I could give you a hug right now….big hug! and a smile….and I’m not sure where the smile I have on my face is coming from but it’s there and I’m passing it along to you, too. Love you

    1. Dear Anonymous friend or family member…I’m not sure who left this post…but I do that I love you…I can just tell because you love me back:-) The smile on your face is because Joy popped in for visit while you were reading. I love you!

  9. “I never left you,” she said. “Swim beneath the layers of who you thought you were. There’s someone new waiting for you there and I’ll be waiting for you there, too.”

    Such eloquence, such wisdom. I am reminded of the phrase: “Turn your wounds into wisdom”. Here, you are doing just that.

    I love you my friend and my life is better for having met you.

    1. Yvon…my life is better, too for having met you. “Turn your wounds into wisdom…” I really like this and feel I have a long way to go…but I’m going to keep on walking with my family and beautiful friends like you that I can feel walking beside me. I love you, Yvon…xo

  10. I saw that picture of Rocky in his snow suit at age 5 and I suddenly realize why the tears begin again and again when I read the beautiful things you have written about him (well, besides the fact that you are a brilliant writer!). It is not so much the passing of a 43 year old man that I am mourning, as it is the loss of that six year old little boy. That is where his image is frozen in my mind. That smile of his, always on his face, showing off his dimples. Always making people laugh.

    I remember like it was yesterday, when Kevin was born. Rocky loved his baby brother! He was the “big brother” and he let you know it! Shortly after Kevin learned to walk, I got to witness this great love of his little brother. Kevin was outside with us on the front lawn. Like any other child with newly found mobility, he just wanted to go, go, go. When he would waddle off the grass lawn into the street, Rocky would be right there to corral him back into the yard again. Kevin had turned running into the road into a game with his big brother. As soon as Rocky’s attention was on something else for a moment Kevin would make a break for it. This time, his little legs got all tangle up under him and down he went; face first into the sand covered pavement. The cry he let out told the whole neighborhood that he was less than impressed with his nose dive, to say the least. I picked him up and plucked out the pebbles that were inbedded in his chubby little hands and knees and kissed the hurt away. Rocky rushed to my side when he heard his brother’s cry. This was the one and only time that I had seen him without his smile. He tapped my leg to get my attention, and with the most serious look I had ever seen on his face, he said, “My brother is crying because he doesn’t like to be picked up. I think you should put him down.” At that moment I suspected that no one was ever going to mess with his little brother and get away with it. I can’t help but smile, remembering that day.
    The last time I saw Rocky, he was around 14 years old. I never had the good fortune to know him as an adult. From the notes from those lucky souls who did know the wonderful person he grew up to be, I can tell that it would have been an honor to have known him.

    Sue, I have no idea how you have been so strong. Rocky is the same age as my brother. Believe me, the horror of that thought hit me like a brick! I don’t imagine being nearly as strong as you seem to be or as determined to find a way to turn his passing into a gift. You amaze me! You have a remarkable gift. Not only am I greatful for having known Rocky and all of the members of your family, I am particularly gifted and thankful for growing up knowing you. Thank you for making me a part of your life. If at anytime you ever doubt your ability to continue on your journey without Rocky’s physical being, I will be here to remind you how strong and courageous you truly are. You have helped so many, now its our turn to help you. You will make it through this. Rocky’s spirit is still with you. I am sure of that. I wish you nothing but peace during this incredibly trying time in your life.

    My love always,

    1. Denise,
      I want to thank you for sharing this memory. I love when people reach out and share memories of him. I’m not sure I’d say I’ve been “strong” through it…really just trying to make my way through this leg of the journey. Thank you for you kind and always loving words. We have so many memories together as kids…through Rocky’s death, I’ve revisited them often. Thank you, Denise…I love you,

  11. So this is the face of Grief. Grief and Joy are one, in partnership. Intense Grief, Intense Joy. The white point indeed does exist, and beyond that white point is pure, unlimited, unconditional Love, because all there is, is Love.

  12. You can certainly see your skills in the article you write.

    The arena hopes for more passionate writers such as
    you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

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