The Grief Linebacker

Jack Lambert

He hits me blindside, like an unprotected quarterback.  Pinned to the floor by a 400-lb wall of angry flesh, I am cracked, broken, concussed.  Everything was going so well.  The day was progressing normally; I was functional, productive even.  As a final insult, he gives me one more push as he arises, sauntering off into the mist while lay there, awash in tears, my chest crushed from sobbing, my head reeling.  It takes me a day to recover.

In her book, “On Loss and Loving Onward,” Melissa Dalton-Bradford describes her Grief Beast:

“The Grief Beast is enormous – a hybrid of Jabba the Hutt, Sasquatch, and Grendel.  His head scratches any twenty-foot ceiling, and he doesn’t speak; he transudes.  He is warted and hairy and lumpy – a shaggy, slate-khaki thing with hair balls and sodden patches of a matted, grimy pelt from sitting for long stretches in pools of tears and mucus.”

Melissa is a dear friend of many years, and I can see her Grief Beast vividly.  As she has shared her experiences with me, and as we have wept together, I have imagined her with this “blubbery, slavering mass” following her around everywhere she goes.  I see her lying on the cold tile of her bathroom floor as he sits there next to her, a “hulking, stinking, unwelcome sidekick.”  In the years before Ethan passed, I knew his death was coming – his health was fragile and deteriorated year by year, and  I mourned this horrifying fact together with my dear friend.  She, mourning the loss of her beautiful son, Parker.  I, mourning the child that never was, that never would be, whom I would inevitably lose.  She, dragging around her Grief Beast, becoming accustomed to its presence while my Grief Linebacker stayed on the sidelines, waiting patiently to be called up by the coach.

And now, nearly six months after Ethan’s passing, my Grief Linebacker hits with semi-regularity.  Some days, he comes out of nowhere, but others, I see him coming, barreling down the field, gaining speed and momentum.  On the seventh of every month, the anniversary of Ethan’s death, I stand at midfield, my feet planted, my body relaxed and waiting for the hit.  I look him in the face, see the beads of sweat on his brow, smell the foul odor of pain and loss emanating from his hulking frame, and feel his powerful arms in a vise grip around my chest as we hit the turf together and I am crushed under his weight.  I lay there on my back, gasping, tears flowing into my ears, waiting for him to retreat to his regular position on the field so that I can roll over into a fetal position, a pulpy mass of mucus, tears, and pain.

The other day, I went to the science center with my two sons.  As we entered one of the exhibit areas, I spotted a woman sitting next to a little boy with spastic cerebral palsy in a wheelchair.  I smiled at her, and she smiled back, looking away.  Knowing all too well the smiles of well-meaning strangers as I have sat with my similarly disabled child in his wheelchair, I have used the same deflection technique.  Acknowledge, look away, engage in something else to avoid uncomfortable conversation.  Undaunted, I bravely walked up to her and said, “That’s a great wheelchair!  Is it a Quickie?  My son had a Quickie (brand) wheelchair.”  Instantly her face relaxed and she smiled, realizing that I spoke her language.  We chatted a bit about her grandson as I knelt down next to the wheelchair and smiled at him.  The grandmother was in town with this sweet boy and his two siblings while their parents were away on business.  An indoor activity away from the blistering Florida heat and humidity was the perfect way to pass the afternoon.  “What is your name, sweetheart?” I said to the little boy.

“Ethan,” his grandmother responded.

This time, the Grief Linebacker was kind.  He picked me up and carried me to the other side of the exhibit hall, as I managed to sputter out, “Oh!  My son was named Ethan too.  Have a fun day!”  It was only then, behind one of the brightly colored exhibits, in a quiet, private space that he threw me to the ground and pounced.

[Image of Jack Lambert courtesy of Best Athletes by the Numbers]

About Andrea R.

(Blog Team) is the proud mother of two living sons, aged 9 and 7, and Ethan, who passed away in early February 2014. She is currently working as a freelance science writer and blogger and will begin a PhD program in Science Education at the University of Central Florida in Fall 2014. When she's not juggling the laundry, her writing work, and the busy lives of her little boys, she likes to squeeze in a triathlon now and then. Also, her husband rocks.

8 thoughts on “The Grief Linebacker

  1. I’ve been thinking about this post all day and just wanted to let you know someone in Texas is mourning with you today. Thank you for sharing a beautiful description of the pain.

  2. My mother died when I was 30. It’s been long enough (16 years) that I’m not sure how I would personify the grief I experienced, but I still remember what it felt like. One of my worst moments came about 6 months after she had died and it caught me unaware just as you described. I was unloading groceries from the car when I heard the phone ring and so I went running into the house to grab it. It was my mother’s lovely southern voice on the other end. Except that it wasn’t, it was her older sister calling to check on me. In that moment it was as if my mother had died again…

    Tonight I am thinking of you and your Ethan, sending love from Oregon.

  3. Thank you, everyone. I have appreciated your kind thoughts and messages. Grief is something that is so intimate and personal and yet so universal at the same time. It touches all of us in different ways, and as I have discovered, there is no one way to grieve. My Grief Linebacker may be your Grief Beast. Grace comes when we sit down and mourn with each other.

  4. Forty-one years have passed since the deaths of my husband and son and that beast is still with me. CS Lewis said something once about grief being like fear. I agree.

  5. Oh, Andrea. As I read this I heard the skulking of Melissa’s Grief Beast, and I saw the hulking shadow of your Grief Linebacker. When I reached the name of that other sweet boy, I felt the increased weight and sway of my Grief Wrecking Ball.

    The Grief Wrecking Ball’s chain hangs welded from the base of my skull and extends far enough into my stomach to allow plenty of room for swinging. Stomach acids have made the metal malleable enough to change shape. Many days (now, at nearly four years since its installation) its presence is as weightless (practically insignificant) as a bowling ball. Sometimes its smooth round surface fills with harsh planes and angles as it morphs into a falling anvil, bungeed by its chain to guarantee it bounces and ricochets off my insides. And there are “still” days (though mercifully fewer!) when the Grief Wrecking Ball expands to fill its full multi-ton weight and size, capable of demolishing the most carefully constructed walls and foundations–all but the One Sure Foundation.

    The Beast, the Linebacker, and the Wrecking Ball aren’t open to reason. They don’t negotiate or turn from their genetic programming, their team playbook, or their demolition orders. They will maul, tackle, and smash time and again. They’ll strike at us on bathroom floors, behind bright exhibits, and in open spaces around buildings we enter.

    And yet…

    We will learn to tame, to anticipate, and to rebuild. We’re not likely to ever say, “Oh, this Beast/Linebacker/Wrecking Ball is my favorite animal/player/tool. I’m so glad it’s become such an integral part of my life.” But we’ll become stronger and better able to manage each attack. We’ll be able to push back a little harder, especially if we keep our feet planted on that One Sure Foundation.

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