***I wrote this last year at a writer’s retreat. It was really intended to help me stretch as a writer, since I don’t engage in fiction-style narratives often. I was practicing a fiction technique to reflect on a non-fiction subject, that is, grief personified.***
I’ve sat comfortably within these walls of my home. Each crevice and creak has become familiar to me. Sitting in the thick of night, I stare at one of the walls – freshly decorated with icons of saints and an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus prominently displayed at the center. Staring, I notice the grandfather clock ticking its predictable cadence alongside the entryway. Staring…why do I blindly gaze into the eye of my home without a particular thought or care?
Ah, yes, because I am safe here – safe within this tomb I’ve created. There are no strangers and seldom visitors or even passersby. It’s just me and my family.
Then, in an instant, a faint rapt on my front door breaks my empty catatonia. My eyelids flutter and I turn my head toward the door. Who could it be? I wonder, fairly curious but slightly miffed and a tad disturbed. I don’t get up immediately. No, I don’t want to be bothered. It’s safe and comfortable here.
A louder knock this time jolts me back to reality, then more desperate pounding. I can see the persistence of this visitor, so I reluctantly leave my perch and peer through the windowpane by the front door.
She is a stranger, I notice, rather comely in appearance, a simpleton perhaps. With dull brown hair crudely swept into a bun atop her head, glasses, no make-up, a thin frame covered in drab garments – a blue sweater, khaki skirt, and white blouse – I hardly mistake her for a friend.
Cracking open the door, I inquire timidly, “Excuse me, may I help you?”
She purses her lips in a fleeting thought, then without warning, pushes the door open and saunters past me with confidence.
“Um, do you mind?” I ask, but it’s more a statement of annoyance than a question. Who does this sort of thing? She is quite possibly the rudest stranger I’ve met, but she doesn’t care, doesn’t even flinch.
“I’ve come to stay a while,” she begins. But before I can interrupt, she holds up her hand. “Don’t ask too many questions. You’ll understand soon enough why I’m here.” Then, with a shrug as I gape in bewilderment, she adds, “Who knows? We may even become friends.”
Friends? I snort to myself, scoffing at the thought. Doubtful at best, but I am slightly intrigued. Who is this woman, and why is she here, invading my home as if she owned the place? I wonder.
Then I realize I must be staring – no longer at a quiet wall full of inspiring and encouraging holy figures, but instead at a pushy and somewhat intimidating woman.
Understanding she has no intention of leaving, I decide to offer her a drink and a chair to rest a while. I’m not ready for conversation, but she begins, anyway.
“Did you ever consider the fact that you’re not supposed to be comfortable here?”
I think, Boy, that’s a way to begin lighthearted chitchat. Taken aback, my eyes widen and I respond plainly, bluntly, “No.”
A wry smile forms at the corner of her lips. She folds her hands and gingerly places them in her lap. “Life isn’t supposed to be easy. That’s why I’m here. To teach you some things.”
“Things?” I inquire, raising an eyebrow.
“Life lessons,” she elaborates, almost laughing.
I didn’t crack a smile. What was so funny about her presence here, anyway? She was merely a rude intruder in my otherwise peaceful abode.
Still, I decided to invite her to stay, likely more out of curiosity than courtesy.
“You never mentioned how you liked your tea,” I offered, handing her a piping hot cup.
She dismissed me with a wave. “Black is fine.” With those words, she took a long sip as if to ponder with the gesture.
Noticing this, I dove right in, eager to discover the crux of her visit. “So, what would you like to talk about?”
She knew I was anxious to wrap up the conversation before it had begun. I just wanted to resume my quiet, unpretentious life in the shadows.
“Oh, no,” she quickly corrected me. “It’s what you’d like to discuss. I’m here for your benefit.”
“Oh, really?” I snickered. “For my benefit? Didn’t you just basically push your way into my house, entirely uninvited?”
She nodded knowingly, and I knew she was a sage of sorts, trying to impart some gift or grace I was unaware I needed.
“It was an unspoken invitation,” she responded nonchalantly. “You called me from the depths.”
“The depths of what?” I ask.
“Your heart, of course.”
Entirely impatience with her seeming impertinence and nebulous speech, I sighed. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to say. As if reading my mind or perhaps my soul, she paused with an empathic glance. “My presence may be unpleasant, but I can’t leave until we’ve spoken.”
That’s just it, I thought. I don’t know what this is about.
Not wanting this to drag on ad infinitum, I politely replied, “I really don’t have anything to say.”
She softened at this, which took me by surprise. Before responding, she took my hand in hers. “All those decades you believed you were alone, I was there with you.”
Bewildered, I scrunched my eyebrows. “I don’t understand,” I started.
“Of course you don’t,” she stated matter-of-factly. “You weren’t ready to meet me back then. But now you are. It’s time to face me.”
“Face you?” I scoffed. “What do you think I’ve been doing for twenty minutes?” We shared a silent space – a sacred moment – before I reconsidered my uncharitable response. “I’m sorry,” I admitted. “I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to be facing.”
“Your past,” she suggested without much thought. “The wounds that have yet to be healed. The times you wanted to drown in your loneliness. The thousands of silent tears.”
I slowly nodded, reflecting on the fragments of my life that had been riddled with suffering, loss, and pain. I suddenly found myself desperate to be freed of them all, but I didn’t know where to begin. As if telepathic, she leaned in more closely, methodically sipping her tea, then placing the cup on a coaster. “You can’t be free without sitting with your own discomfort. It means allowing yourself to feel the sorrow and pain, yes, but when you avoid the bad, you numb the good, too.”
Her wisdom startled me, but I knew she spoke truth and I began to notice my callousness crumble. Certainly this would give way to an unprecedented vulnerability, and I wasn’t sure I could handle such powerful emotions.
And, like a ripe grapevine, one by one, the wounds opened a cascade of emotions: frustration, rage, overwhelm, confusion, tumult. With the acknowledgment of each, the tears showered my face with a healing baptism.
I knew her departure was temporary as she stood up from the chair, warmly smiling. “My work is done for now, but it’s never completely finished,” she gently warned. “I’ll be back to visit from time to time…”
As her voice trailed off, I told her, “I’ll call you.”
No words were exchanged between us further. None were needed. I initiated an embrace of gratitude and she reciprocated. Somehow, grief entered my home an unwelcome guest but left a fond friend. She waved behind her and wandered into the distance, but I lingered in the doorway for a while, knowing that somehow grief had changed me.