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Column: The peculiar nature of grief

Grief is a peculiar thing. Nobody captures this idea better than Nora McInerny, a woman who lost her husband, father and unborn child within the span of six weeks.

In her podcast, "Terrible, Thanks for Asking," McInerny takes all the dreadful losses she has been through and analyzes them in an honest and humorous way. Typically, when someone asks how you are doing, you can respond with a simple, "I'm fine," even when you're not fine and everyone goes on their merry way. "Terrible, Thanks for Asking" directly challenges this norm and encourages people to be candid about their emotions following a traumatic experience.

In the podcast, McInerny invites others to discuss their encounters with grief and in doing so, creates a space for sharing and healing.

McInerny's straightforward and sincere way of looking at loss has been inspiring to me, so much so that I decided to try my own hand at being open about the recent loss I have been faced with. Somewhere around four months ago, I lost a big chunk of my heart. My poem-reading, adventure-loving, guitar-strumming, beloved big brother Jacob left this earth, leaving myself, my family and all of his friends in an impossibly empty world.

When we found out about his death, I was a week away from the due date for my April column. I apologised profusely to the editor of the Tribune, Paula, and had to explain to her that I couldn't possibly write about anything besides Jake and didn't submit anything for that month.

I tried to write about light topics for my May and June columns, taking on very simple subjects that I could methodically produce a column out of to avoid having to write about what was actually on my mind. It didn't feel right and, inspired by the fierceness of McInerny's candor, I've decided to finally write on my experience with the heart-wrenching and (sometimes) ridiculously hilarious process of grieving.

One thing to note is that every person moves through loss in a different way and my experiences do not necessarily translate to every grieving person.

I have to say that grieving this loss is an incredibly energy draining, all encompassing and confusing process. It takes up a lot of my time and energy. My family commiserates in our daily exhaustion and seemingly endless desire for naps. There are reminders of my brother everywhere, bringing out a crazy variety of emotions in us.

When I drive down Minnesota Avenue, I picture him on his longboard and remember when he came home with road rash all up and down his side. That makes me smile and laugh. Sometimes a song that he and I listened to together will play on the radio and it will make me cry.

Every day since his death has been different. There are days when the world feels right and good and you can make the most of the day, and there are other days when living seems impossible and you just exist. Grief is weird.

Two mornings after we found out about my brother, a postcard came for me in the mail from him.

It's from the Vietnam National Women's Museum and, knowing that I am an ardent feminist, Jake thought I would really like it. He signed the postcard off with, "Stay strong and count your blessings!" I've been carrying that phrase with me for every step of my grieving journey. It's strange to think that during such an awful time, you can still identify the blessings you have. Loss has this profound way of bringing people together and reminding you of all the good there is. These blessings come in friends who help distract you from your pain, church ladies who knit you blankets, stacks of frozen lasagnas and swim moms who will plan your entire graduation party.

Often, people who are in the midst of a great loss may seem 'untouchable,' but it is so important to extend support and love to them.

Two years ago, when my best friend lost her mother, I had no idea how to help her. All I could possibly do was ask if she needed to get out of the house. It's heart wrenching to watch someone you love go through such pain, and it gets worse when you see that nothing you can do will truly help that person.

Since Jake's death, I have seen my own friends go through exactly what I went through in trying to bring comfort to my friend. As the one experiencing the grief, I don't know exactly what I need from my support system, but I do know that the pain doesn't go away after a week, a month, or even four months and having people only a phone call away can be incredibly comforting.

Grief, despite its awful nature, can also be a strangely hilarious thing. My sisters and I could hardly keep it together when our freezer filled up with innumerable different variations of tater tot hotdish and lasagnas. Our situation was one of sorrow but our freezer was just SO Minnesotan. Out of our grief has come some pretty hysterical moments, such as when it was finally revealed to me that my brother accidentally killed my childhood pet hamster and my parents replaced it before I noticed.

Here is the part of my column where I would usually try to impart some great wisdom about whatever topic I chose to write about--but I don't have anything profound to say about grief. It has all been said before.

All I know is that grief is a peculiar thing--equal parts hilarious and awful. The whole process is terrible but, from it, I have gleaned some beauty: a greater appreciation for life itself. And for that, I am grateful, and I am sure Jacob would be proud of me for it.