I am beginning a series called Dear Andy, written as letters to my late brother exploring the issues of loss and grief. 

Dear Andy,

It’s been nearly 9 months since you died. Though I had no reason to believe I would understand anything about grief, I realize I had certain expectations. Like with most things, I thought that with practice, it would get easier. As you know, I am ever the “achiever” and expect improvement when I set my sights on accomplishments. But, I am learning that grief is hard to conquer, or even control, because grief is a shapeshifter. Just when you think you’re starting to understand it, you don’t.

Grief is thrust upon us suddenly, almost always without our choosing. One day, you are cruising along feeling like you have a handle on things, whistling a carefree tune, then the phone rings on the way to work and you have to pull your car to the curb to handle the unbelievable jolt. Grief came for me as a lightening strike, that stole the air out of my lungs, punched me in the gut, and enforced a dizzying equilibrium all at once.

Sometimes it is like a thick cloud as stubborn as Pig Pen’s dirt that bumbles around with you wherever you go. On those days, it’s difficult to see and breathe through the darkness. Other times, it quickly and suddenly courses through your veins like fire causing your eyes to bleed hot tears. Grief can come and leave quickly, settle in for a long haul, strike with piercing pain, or linger as a dull ache. In its best form, my grief is a helpful shadow that highlights all the wonderful things in my life. With the extra definition on my blessings, they are elevated.

Grief is a powerful force, immune to so many outside factors, though I have found that like many negative emotions, it finds strength on dark days and late nights. Fatigue is my ultimate kryptonite from which I find the pains of grief especially hard to overcome.

As I talk with others about their journeys with grief, I have found that like with all things human, each person is different. Dad says that grief is like a bad weather front. He feels it rolling in, without an expected forecast, and an unbelievable sadness takes hold. Then it passes, and he can resume his daily functioning. He doesn’t expect it to ever go away completely but ponders whether the amount of time between the dark fronts may increase.

In the past decade in particular, so many of my life experiences have taught me that most things are out of my control. Accepting this is against my nature though I’ve made great strides. In difficult times, I picture myself in a torrent sea of high winds and high waves. My instinct to swim my way out is something I am working to undo. This struggle against the storm will only exhaust me with higher likelihood of drowning in the depths.

When I feel grief coming, in any of its forms, I begin taking deep breaths. When I feel the heat or the cold, the tumultuous churning, the slow ache, the sucker punch or the hot tears, I try to lie back and let it happen. I focus on love, your free spirit, on my many blessings. Sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t.

I miss you,