We don’t think too hard about those phrases when we say them. They serve as throwaways — careless, comic shout-outs to something unexpected.
I like to imagine their literal origins; old-school oaths that invoke the power of a creator, an afterlife, an instinctive reaction to universal loss. Sharing an essential vagueness, these exclamations are recognised by everyone, but defined by no one. We are completely free to conjure our own interpretations.
Maybe they began as simple wishes.
Describing the goodness of God or Heaven is sadly beyond me, but thankfully I know the blessings of a good grief. I see it every time I open my refrigerator, right there on the door of my silver-grey Beko, a mosaic of 15 magnetic photo frames, each holding a reminder of my dead wife Allyson tightly in place.
Some people might see my fridge photographs as a kind of a shrine but they would be wrong. Shrines are respectful places full of intent, right?
People don’t open the door of a shrine and stare blankly wondering why they went there.
They don’t stand there, dead still, dazed by the randomness of their life.
Shrines are quiet places, right?
They are not places where you swear because the chicken breasts are no good (at least according to the sell by date).
They are certainly not the sort of place to have an argument with yourself about the point of it all.
Shouting at the silence.
Crying at the absence.
My fridge is not a shrine, it is the heart of my good grief. It’s not about before, it’s about now.
When I need to get milk, it’s there. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s right there.
A fridge full of food.
A door full of memories.
I don’t need my fridge to grieve. I don’t leave my grief behind when I leave the kitchen. I carry it with me everywhere, always. The fridge door is simply a way for me to organise it, see it whole, my loss laid out in a matrix of 15 rectangles.
My good grief is a safe space, somewhere to reset my relationship with my wife. Although she is gone and our dialogue is now a monologue, the talking isn’t over.
My questions stay unanswered.
My jokes don’t bring a laugh like they used to.
My hurts are not comforted.
But if I listen inside my head, I can hear how the conversation would go if she was still here.
It’s not the same, but it’s something.
My good grief is realistic. It knows that emotions move of their own accord; they come and they go and then they come back.
Sometimes they arrive head on, sometimes sideways. Inside out and outside in. They come when they want; I have learned to accept them when they show up because my good grief has taught me that resistance is futile.
My good grief is self-aware. It is ever-present, always with me, but it knows when to stay quiet. Not in a speak-when-you’re-spoken-to kind of way, but in a way that is respectful of the life I’m trying to live.
It rarely pitches a fit, but when it does and rolls around screaming for attention, it knows it is making things harder and gets over itself as soon as it possibly can.
And yet my good grief is wholly unashamed. It refuses to feel guilty when it can’t stay within the bounds of what might be seen as ‘normal’ behaviour. It allows me to cry when I get too sad and rolls its eyes at the people who find that uncomfortable.
Their discomfort is their problem; they can go somewhere easier to be, I can’t.
The good grief I have is brave enough to look at itself and recognise its flaws. It sees the ‘Why Me?’ jealousy and the ‘Why Not You?’ anger and works hard to keep them in check. When it can’t, it’s honest enough to reveal the rage, and cares enough to ask for help to calm down again.
I am lucky that I have people in my life with whom I can share my grief. They recognise my rage in their rage, my sadness in their sadness, my loss in their loss. Sharing my grief doesn’t make it go away; in fact, seeing the hurt of my children makes it worse. But knowing I’m not alone in my grief is good.
My good grief is forward-looking and has allowed me to feel mendable.
I have no firm faith in that Good God or in those Good Heavens, but I can imagine another place. In my imaginings, when I get there, Allyson is sitting waiting for me. When I arrive she’ll look up, smile, and say, “So what have you been doing with yourself?”.
My good grief doesn’t want me to answer ‘Nothing much. Couldn’t lift myself after you died. I’ve just spent the time feeling sorry for myself’.
Instead, it has challenged me to live,—really live—my life without her.
Before I brought the new love of my life back to the house I’d shared with Allyson, I told her about the fridge.
When she came in, she went straight to the kitchen, stood in front of the fridge door and asked me about every photograph. I knew then that there was a deal to be done – a new life in exchange for never pretending that my old life didn’t matter.
My grief, good or bad, will never go away; there will always be an emptiness that can’t be filled. Memories serve as a reminder of what I no longer have. But the more I move forward, the easier it is to see a happy past, not a lost future.
Over time, I hope my grief shrinks as the new life made around it grows. And if I get to the next place, I hope I have as many stories to tell Allyson about my new life as I tell everyone about our old life.