The ever-widening ache

When the end of February comes, the stillness of that room comes with it.

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In the middle of the night, that night she was dying, there was nothing else in the world. The hours were swollen and so very, very still, even as we moved and talked quietly and took turns at the vigil. We were huddled together in a moment that didn’t subscribe to time, or physics, or anything outside the room. She was all my heart could focus on, and she was dying, and we set our own selves down to be witnesses.

Though it doesn’t make sense to my head, my body remembers this particular moment in the earth’s swirl around the sun. When the end of February comes, the stillness of that room comes with it. I just found myself crying without realizing it, just now, three years exactly after the night and morning that my sister died and this particular grief was born.

Each time it reminds you of its presence, grief like this has managed somehow to grow in natural but jarring ways, like the child of a friend you see only sometimes who goes from onesies to walking between visits.

Grief is both familiar and brand new every time.

And so each February so far I have met a new grief. By the first year anniversary, I realized I had picked some of myself back up again, and my grief was for the loss of her but also the loss of my own innocence around the truths of death and sorrow. I took two days to make something just for her, a project where I could be alone with the thought of how horrible and glorious it is to be a living, breathing, swirling collection of cells and consciousness, until you aren’t anymore.

By the next year this grief had turned from sharp and localized into something more soft and widespread. So I cried some, and sat quietly some, and called my oldest sister to share in that pain that only we know in this particular way, and let the person who shares my house and my life now make me waffles.

This year the grief sits with me next to other aches. It mingles with all of the other griefs I carry — of lives I know lost to apathy, of forests leveled for jail buildings, of complicated decisions where all options are tragedies. Of people who recently lost their rose-colored glasses and of people who never had the luxury of such glasses in the first place. Of scribbled graffiti. Of refugees turned away. Of people without homes and some without hope and some without anything in themselves stronger than their hatred.

So I will breathe in and try to believe my body when it tells me: Today we ache.

Tomorrow we remember our ache, so when we see it in others we do not shut our eyes to their pain. Tomorrow we let it sharpen our focus and re-shuffle our priorities yet again. Tomorrow we let our ache reach its arms out wide and find its brothers and sisters and hold them tight, because their bodies know different anniversaries and different griefs but we are family in this ever-expanding ache.

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