There’s no way to “hack” grief.
You can’t skip from step one to step seven (if there are steps that characterize this thing). You just have to go through it. What that will entail for you, I’m not sure. But if you choose to ignore this warning, I promise you — it’ll be just like a boomerang. Not the cheap kind you buy at Walmart either, the expensive kind that comes back to you no matter how hard you throw it.
The human mind rejects this notion (mine did, fa sho). We think we can bury the pain so deep in our psyches and bodies that it’ll disappear forever. It’s a great strategy, one that we are pretty pleased with ourselves for. Like magicians, we can make grief go: POOF!
But this is also a great tragedy.
First, because like with terrible living room magicians practicing their first set, the audience saw the whole thing. Your grief didn’t disappear; it just relocated. Your parents clap anyways. You feel proud; they feel bad for you. It’s a whole thing.
Second, because trying to make grief disappear kind of defeats the whole purpose. Yes, you heard me right: purpose. There’s a purpose in grief. A philosophical kind of purpose that you have to dig for. Like an adventurer searching for buried treasure if adventurers searched for treasure in a morgue.
That was too soon, too gross. I’m sorry. Cue: swift subject change.
I’ve always believed in magic.
I’m the oldest of three kids, nine years older than my youngest brother. And so, as a pseudo-Christian youth, it was my job to keep the-Santa-isn’t-real secret from both of my brothers. If my memory serves me right, I pretended to believe in Him for another whole decade after my friend Ben told me, “YOU DUMMY. HE ISN’T REAL.”
My little heart broke when I heard those words. Santa wasn’t real? Punch to the gut. Say it isn’t so.
One of the great things about having two much younger little siblings (there are few, S & J) is that you get to keep getting presents from Santa even when you don’t believe in Him anymore. The even better part of this is that you get to continue believing (and seeing) magic. Anyone who tells me magic isn’t real never saw my younger brother’s eyes light up on Christmas morning. Those little baby blues were as magical as Dumbledore himself.
When my mom died, I equated the whole experience with realizing Santa wasn’t real. Mortality is the epic unveiling of ignorance. We deny all evidence that supports it. And so, when it smacks us in the face like, “YOU DUMMY. LIFE ISN’T FOREVER. LIFE ISN’T FAIR” — Punch to the gut. Say it isn’t so.
You can call it planned obsolescence by God (if you were an iPhone 5, you’d realize your days were numbered). You can call it whatever you want. But death, I think we’d all have to agree isn’t cool. It’s not a cool thing to have to die or to lose someone. There is no reality in which someone can make it cool either, not even Chuck Klosterman.
Shortly after my mom died, when I was thinking about how unfair life was — because Santa wasn’t real of course — I remembered whispering to her about ‘The Truth’ in the kitchen one time.
I asked, “What did Santa get Jackson?”
She reminded me: ”I don’t know. I don’t have his number. And remember, Katie-Bird: he is real. In your heart and in mine.”
When the pain of my mom dying was so strong, I turned to believing in magic again. I wanted to believe that it could just “go away” with a flick of the wrist. I wanted to believe that the answers were all hid in the rafters somewhere. There must have been a code to crack. She must have left something behind — maybe a flower, note, or piece of jewelry — that would start me on a Nancy Drew adventure. Hey, maybe she’d even send me some Morse Code through the lights, I thought.
I think we all want this. Magic is sexy and cool. Death and grief, as we have established, are not. And plus, genius is easier to believe in than hard work. Santa is easier to believe in that your parents, oddly enough.
What you realize as you go through life is that there’s no big, jolly man coming down your chimney to eat a bunch of candy-cane cookies and give you a bicycle. That’s not real. But there is real magic — and truth be told it’s way better than a red-suited man, a sleigh, and a bunch of flying reindeer.
Magic is in the kind of love my mom and I shared. And the kind that you and your loved ones share. Magic is the moment that you realize it wasn’t all for nothing. It’s a chance meeting, or a business breakthrough.
It’s what some people call God or Grace. Others call it coincidence or chance. Whatever you call it, it’s all around us.
You can boil it down to numbers all you want. You can try to think it out of existence. But death, grief — they make us rethink this whole life thing. If we aren’t careful, we’ll get sucked into believing that darkness outshines light. When darkness is in fact just the absence of light, my friend.
That’s why I think you need to believe in magic. The kind of magic I believe in — the Belinda-the-good-witch kind. The kind in which you must flip the switch to activate.
This is the magic we create for ourselves, when our backs are against the wall or our hearts are broken. The kind we let flow through us. It won’t come in the form of a wand or a disappearing rabbit. And it certainly won’t come with a Hogwarts seal of approval.
It takes a whole lot of effort to believe in this kind of magic. It requires being able to believe in something a lot bigger than yourself, but also to believe in yourself.
This is the purpose of grief — to get you to believe again.