• Katherine Kiessling

Let's Talk About Grief

Updated: May 13, 2020

The Kiessling siblings' love of hats started young. (L to R me, Matt minus his two front teeth, and Chris)

I once read something that described grief as a box, a ball, and a button. You go about your day with the ball rolling around. Sometimes, the ball moves around freely, bouncing off nothing more than the walls of your box. And then sometimes, it hits that button. When that button gets pushed, pain hits. Eventually, it subsides, the ball resumes rolling around in the box, and you continue onward. When grief first enters your life, this ball is ginormous. Like "the size of the freaking box" huge. So, naturally, the button gets hit. ALL. THE. TIME. But, eventually, the ball starts to shrink. It'll never go away completely, but it will get smaller, lowering the chances of the pain switch getting hit. You begin to learn what causes your ball to bowl right into that button and how to avoid or manage those things, like, say, hitting next when a Muse song comes on shuffle because you just can't handle it today. Of course, some of these things are easier to avoid than others. Songs can be changed, but dates, not so much. And sometimes it's unexpected things that seem to launch your ball to that button without any warning. Note that while the size of the ball decreases, the reaction to that button being pushed doesn't necessarily. Oh, and, for most, your box o' grief stays with you. What can I say? Grief is a stubborn bastard.

This past Thursday, May 7, marked nine years since my box of grief was created. Quite unexpectedly, I lost my older brother Matt to a freak, one car accident. No rhyme or reason, just sudden, unbearable loss of the level-headed, caring, best friend who kept me grounded. Everything inside me seemed to stop while the world barreled ahead at hyper speed. My life suddenly felt like those montages you see in movies or TV shows where a character is sitting slowly doing some simple task like eating cereal as everything surrounding them changes at this ridiculous speed to show time racing forward.

I decided to try the whole, "Book of Mormon," "turn it off" method anytime my ball hit that button. I would swallow the lump in my throat, blink my eyes until they felt dry, and focus on counting my breath or my steps until the wave subsided. Little did I know I was slowly teaching myself not to feel, which led to instances were everything bottled up erupted into uncontrollable, destructive lava. Lava is very hard to clean up, FYI, because it gets everywhere - even on the good things in your life. I'm not exactly sure why I thought this was a healthy way of coping (PLOT TWIST: it's NOT). I wanted to seem strong; I didn't want this horrible thing to be what defined me; I wanted this to all just go away. But feeling - truly feeling, from the warm fuzzies to the mean reds - is the most courageous thing a person can do. It's what helps keep us human, and I was shutting that side of me out completely.

Loss has shaped me, yes, but just because it is a part of me doesn't mean it is me. It's taken me almost nine years to realize that. Nine years of fighting so hard against my grief that I actually started to let it define me. Nine. Years.

Silly faces are the best faces.

I've talked about Matt more in the past eight months than I have in those nine years (therapy is powerful, y'all). It's helping shrink my ball and lighten my box because I'm letting myself work through it. I'm allowing myself to feel those mean reds alongside the warm fuzzies. I'm giving myself permission to grieve on my terms, on my timeline. Yes, there are still days where I snap at my passenger DJ to turn off the Muse song they added to the drive's playlist because I'm not in the head space to handle it. But there are also days where I accept that ball will hit the button with no mercy, knowing I will be okay to face it because I'm working on it. There are even days where I willingly rattle the box by opening an old card or paying Matt a visit because by feeling, I'm remembering the person I love so much. As much as I want to will this away, it's here to stay. It's a part of my story, and there is no erasing it.

This started off as a private journal entry Thursday to help me cope with the day, so the very thought of publicly sharing this is terrifying. If you know me, you know I'm pretty reserved about the personal stuff, especially Matt. But when this first happened, I didn't have anyone open about their relationship with grief to turn to. All I got was a ten-minute assessment before returning to classes, and that was it. It's taken me eight months of regular-ish therapy to realize that I am not alone in this, there are, in fact, great resources out there to help folks navigate this, and that it is ridiculous to feel ashamed or scared of talking about grieving. So here I am, opening my book a bit, because I could be the person I so desperately needed nine years ago for someone else. Grief doesn't go away, and it doesn't get easier when those feelings hit. But it is possible to heal. It is possible to shrink your metaphorical ball to such a small size that your button isn't hit as often. You start to feel normal again - less guilt over feeling joy, fewer instances of debilitating emotional pain, and so on.

It's a long, challenging process, but it's one no one should feel they have to take on their own. Help is out there, I promise - all you need to do is ask for it (which is one of the hardest things ever, I know). Everyone's box o' grief is unique, but we don't need to carry them alone.

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