Imagine yourself standing on the platform of the world’s largest roller coaster. Stop and really imagine the sensation. It’s a beautiful sunny day as you stare out to the mountains in the distance. To one side of you are lakes and forests and to the other is a bustling city. From below you hear the soft murmur of voices and happy noises. The sun is shining, birds are singing and the breeze is gentle. You are nervous, excited, and a little afraid as you anticipate the ride, but you are certain it will be a good one; all the others have been.
As you step into the front cart with the world at your feet, someone wraps a blindfold around your head. You have no idea what’s going on or why this is happening, but before you can say anything, the cart jerks into motion and you are now holding on to the sides of the cart as it turns, twists, and circles the loops. You can’t anticipate any of what’s coming, and you know you’re in a turn or a twist only once the cart has jerked into it. The wind whistles past your ears and your heart races while you clutch to anything that seems solid, but nothing is because it’s all speeding over the tracks without an apparent end. After what seems like hours, the cart rolls to a stop at the top platform again. You rip the blindfold off and try to scramble to your feet, but something pushes you down and another blindfold is put on you. The ride resumes. Once again you can’t find your balance; you hold on with all your might and you try to remember the twists and turns from the previous run, but they’re different now. Somehow, during your brief stop, the track was redesigned. There are two loops instead of one; the climbs are longer, and the falls are faster. Your heart is racing; your mind can’t understand what is happening, and you scream.
Again, you come to a stop, but this time there are others on the platform. Some you recognize; others are strangers. The ones you know tell you things will get better; you just need to hold on to hope. They tell you the ride is only about 10 minutes long and you’ll feel better soon, but not one of them gets into the cart with you. As you try to explain your confusion, your fear, that you want the ride to stop, your voice is drowned out. Once again a blindfold is placed over your eyes and the ride begins again, and again the coaster’s formation and design are different. Round and round you go. Each time you stop there are fewer familiar faces there, but the strangers mill about. Some of them get in the cart with you, but can ride only once as they have their own roller coasters to ride. After hours, days, weeks (you can’t tell anymore) you come to another stop and pull off the blindfold once again. This time you have the chance to look around; everything is different, everything.
The mountains are no longer visible because of the grey clouds covering them. The forests are no longer green, and the lakes have a fine layer of silver white on them. The noise from below are no longer happy, and the city is mostly dark as the world is asleep. You wonder how long you’ve been on this ride, but your brain can’t make sense of what’s happened, how long it’s taken, or why you are not allowed off this ride. Just as you begin to catch your breath, another blindfold comes, and another ride begins.
You beg to get off. You promise you will do anything just to get off this ride. You are certain there has been a mistake; you aren’t supposed to be on this ride, not like this. You wonder if you’re being punished. But for what? You can’t recall ever doing anything that would warrant this kind of torture. You run through memories hoping to find an answer, but there isn’t one. Again, you pull to a stop at the platform. Now there are happy noises coming from the city, but you can’t make sense of them. What are they about? It’s been so long since you’ve been part of any of that; it’s unrecognizable now.
You continue to ride the coaster – ten minute rides with rests of 1 to 3 minutes in between. There is no getting out of the cart; you’re not allowed. Besides, where would you go anyway? The people you knew have moved on. They have their lives to live, and they don’t want to hear about the ride you don’t seem to want to get off. They don’t believe you when you say you’ve tried each time to get off, but you can’t, and you don’t understand why this is all happening. Seasons have changed, people have changed, you’ve changed. You’re tired of fighting; you’re exhausted, mind and body, from trying to figure out the pattern of the ever changing coaster. You’re just plain worn out.
Imagine, if you can, that this is what you do every day, every single day, without understanding or reason. You’re trapped, but not of your choice. The blindfolds are endless and the rides continue. Eventually, you learn to stop screaming. You let your body go limp and your mind go blank so you can endure the changing turns, loops, and drops, but the confusion, the fear, the anger remain.
* * * * * * *
This is the best analogy of grief I can give. It’s not a journey because that implies a destination, an end. I will never stop missing Melinda or wanting her back. This is not a path because that implies a peace that doesn’t exist right now. This is not a club because that implies willful engagement with others. No one I’ve met wants to be a part of this. Is this Hell? That I can believe because I can’t imagine a greater pain.
They said year two is harder. They’re right, but only for the grieving. The others have had time to move on. The grievers have had time to absorb the pain more deeply.