Two years ago, this was our last normal week and nobody knew it, an acquaintance noted.
She was, of course, referring to the week before March 11, 2020, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the world began to shut down.
For me, though, the last normal week was five years ago. On March 8, 2017, I lost my oldest son to a different pandemic, one involving opioids. Devin Gabriel Krueger Glenn, my wild, stubborn and adventurous boy, had ventured too far to a place where no one could save him, and I didn’t know it until it was too late. He was two weeks away from his 24th birthday.
Five years ago. One might imagine that after so much time it would be easier to let March 8 seamlessly slip into March 9 without commemoration or memory pushing his death to the surface.
But it doesn’t work that way.
One might imagine a dulling of the sharp edges of that day, that piercing, frantic phone call from one of my younger sons who found his big brother blue-lipped and not breathing next to a syringe emptied of heroin.
But the edges have not been worn down by time.
If you have lost someone you loved deeply, and I know many of you have, the day when that someone’s death became a part of your life is forever marked as an involuntary, inescapable anniversary of grief.
We deal with these anniversaries in our own ways. We post photos on social media of our loved ones with their eternal smiles. We lay fresh flowers on their graves. We distract ourselves with outings far away from anyone who knows our pain. We surround ourselves with those who will carry us through the day. We lock ourselves away, alone, and cry into a pillow.
Whatever we choose is the right way to grieve.
In the earliest years, a few of us stood shivering outside at a memorial I made in the yard and raised a glass to Devin and his short, mostly happy life. In 2020 before COVID-19, his father arranged for members of our family to gather at a local watering hole Devin frequented to share Devin stories, of which there are many, and toast to the joy we were lucky to have for as long as we were allowed to have it.
This year, his father is too numb for any gatherings.
“I can’t put into words how I feel,” he says.
Grief ebbs and flows like that.
This year, for me, words are what keep my mind and my heart from sinking into inertia. So I write this column, sharing with those of you who know this grief. Every day there are more of us.
I wrote this message in the chaos of that morning five years ago on Facebook:
“I know I have the audacity to ask and I know I don’t do much in the way of prayer, but something very serious is happening at this moment at my house that I cannot disclose and I am asking all of you to pray with all your might. Thank you.”
Hundreds of you did. I’m still so grateful for that. Those prayers, your words, may have not saved my son, but they saved me.
I have always thought myself so fortunate that my dark journey was lighted by so many of you who shared the words of your own grief with me. You became my guides, my teachers, my reminder that no matter how implausible it has seemed at times there is still life after our last normal week. It’s just a different life, a different normal.
I have since taken my place beside you and do what I can to help light the way for those just beginning the journey.
We commemorate grief anniversaries not just on the day our loved one died but in spontaneous moments of memory. We learn it is OK to grieve when we need to in whatever way we need to no matter how many years have passed. We learn that it is OK to have the “audacity” to ask others to carry us when we need that.
And we learn what Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, who defined the five stages of grief, wrote:
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
That is how it works.
Every day, he is still gone. But I am still here. And so are you. We extend our hands to those whose losses are fresh and raw and those whose losses are etched deeply now on the heart, and we remind each other that while these grief anniversaries may seem like lonely occasions, we are not alone.
We remind each other to keep breathing through our grief anniversaries, in this different normal.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org.