Grief is Like... an Old Pair of Jeans
I like to share with other bereaved people different ways to think about their grief. One way to look at grief is to compare it with a piece of cloth or a tapestry. In cloth, the threads—whether cotton, wool, silk, polyester, or otherwise—are interwoven. Thread over thread, warp threads with the weft threads winding between them, woven to make a strong piece of cloth that can withstand much wear and tear.
Like that woven cloth, our lives are comprised of threads. Memories, activities, knowledge, experience, love, pain, joy, and hope—all of these make up our lives. With even one thread added or taken away, our lives would be different.
When someone dies, a friendship is lost, or a divorce happens, grief becomes one of the threads of our lives. Just as we tend to keep good memories of our loved ones and experiences with them, we also keep some of the pain when we lose them. We cannot pick and choose which threads will comprise our lives; the cloth is woven from our experiences. It belongs uniquely to each of us. That cloth is, as an old commercial for cotton says, the fabric of our lives.
So, how is grief like an old pair of jeans?
Let’s say you suffer an intense loss. Mother or husband or child or sibling or friend has died. Your grief is like a hole in your heart.
That hole can be compared with a hole in your favorite old pair of jeans. You’ve worn those jeans for years. Now, there is a hole in the thigh above the knee. You don’t want to throw out the jeans because they represent so much of your life, but you can’t abide the hole—it reminds you of how many timesand to which places you’ve worn those beloved jeans. A new pair would never be quite the same. A new pair wouldn’t quite have your life in them. Similarly, your life without your loved one will never be the same and, truth be told, you cannot get a new life without that person—not a life that never included your precious deceased person. You must decide whether and how to continue your life without thatperson’s physical presence.
So, you have a few choices.
You can cut the jeans off above the knee—at the point of the hole. That way, you can get rid of the hole completely by cutting it off and tossing away the evidence. No one else needs to know that those cut-off jeans represent life without your beloved. Or, you can simply choose not to address the hole at all. Every time you look down at your legs, you will see a hole. Every walk outside, you will feel the breeze blowing through that hole. You can leave the hole there, like an open wound for the world to see and a grief that is never addressed. Your heart thus always will hurt with an intensity determined by the size of that hole.
In another choice, you can decide to do something positive about that hole by mending it. But if you are not a skillful sewer, you will do a partial mending job where the stitches are loose and the hole remains a weak place in the jeans. Catch a table corner on it and the patch will tear again. Either way, others will
see that you have tried to mend your grief and that you still could use some help in completing the hard work of grieving. Incomplete grief will leave you with a weakly patched heart and life.
Perhaps the best choice—and one that sadly not everyone chooses—is to mend those jeans with a strong patch job. The stitches must be tightly and closely sewn to render the patch resilient. That the jeans are patched will be completely obvious to you and to others who see you, and the newness of the mending may feel uncomfortable at first. But the mended jeans will be stronger at the point of the hole than they were before the hole was torn to begin with. Similarly with grief, doing the hard work of grieving offers a strong patch where the hole in your heart and life began. The hole no longer leaks constant pain although some pain—like the hole—still is there to some degree. The patch now provides a new life and new hope for you as a person who has loved, lost, and mourned the loss. Evidence of that grief may remain, but the strength of the binding love you continue to have for the deceased will entwine the grief with your whole life and enable you to return fully to living—once again experiencing love, pain, joy, and hope.
Our experiences are the fabric of our lives. Torn fabric can be mended and, while there will be evidence of the old wounds, we can continue living—living fully—until we die.
© 2018 Beth L. Hewett, PhD, CT