“It was early January 2017 and once again, I found myself aimlessly driving around town trying to avoid going home. If I could just find something to do, then I wouldn’t have to face the dam of emotions that were threatening to break.
What’s with all the emotions, you ask? Well you see, just a few weeks prior, I had walked through one of the most heartbreaking losses of my life. My sweet, funny, and kind brother, Dakota, was hospitalized for a week following a seizure that stopped his heart for 12 minutes. During that week on life support, I watched as my very large family slowly came to the realization that Dakota was never going to wake up again. He was only 23 years old.
On Thursday, after extensive meetings with the medical team, our family made the decision to proceed with plans to discontinue life support. That afternoon, I sat alone in a conference room with the Transplant Coordinator as he walked me through the process of organ donation and handed me a pen to sign an endless number of consent forms. On Friday morning, I held a stethoscope to his chest and memorized his heartbeat. I sang a worship song over and over and over before saying goodbye. And then at 11:19 p.m., I sat next to him in the operating room as he took his final breaths.
I remember the long walk down the hallway and through the double doors. And I think it was in that moment that grief introduced herself to me. Those next 10 days were a blur of funerals and people and then cruelly, Christmas.
So I’m sure you can imagine that, come January, I felt devastated and numb and wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.
Hence, the aimless drive around town trying to dodge emotions.
At some point on this cloudy and cold day in January, I stumbled upon an outdoor estate sale. Immediately, I pulled over. If standing outside in the freezing cold looking at other people’s junk means I can stuff some tears for a while, let’s do it! I appreciated no one said anything about the girl who walked like a zombie through the piles. As I roamed, I noticed this ugly wooden chair amongst some of the furniture for sale. I’m pretty sure it was part of a set, and I didn’t need a set of old chairs, so I continued on. But always found myself coming back to this dang chair.
Thinking back on it, I guess it just looked the way I felt. Worn out, cracked, and on the verge of snapping in some places. I knew I had been staring a little too long because eventually an older gentleman approached and offered to sell me the single chair at a discount, which was great because I had just enough cash in my pocket for this newly-discounted piece of junk.
I managed to squeeze the hunk of wood into the backseat of my tiny car and promptly called a friend to tell him about my purchase saying, ‘I think I just bought a grief chair and I don’t know why. I have a feeling it might become something one day.’
And that was that. I took the thing home. Today marks three years since Dakota’s death and I’ve wanted to write about that stupid chair so many times but knew it wasn’t ready yet. Now I know why. Much like grief, I was just going to have to live with this chair for a while. So I did and over the last few years, it’s become such a fitting analogy.
So… meet Grief Chair.
Grief Chair spent the first 12 months sitting in the corner of my bedroom. When I woke up and when I went to bed, I saw that chair. When I was alone and overwhelmed with the intensity of my heartbreak, I would glance over and see that chair firmly planted in the corner. When the world moved on, that chair held space.
Sometimes, I’d even venture to sit in it, although it was wildly uncomfortable. Over time, I’d shift it around the room as I lived life, occasionally piling junk on top of it and then going through the process of uncovering it again. Still such an eyesore, I always had plans to redo it but could never quite find the energy. I found solace in the fact this chair still accurately represented the fractured emotions I waded through.
I’d occasionally place a pillow on the seat to try to make it more beautiful, but at the end of the day, it was still just a broken place to sit.
About two years in, I was packing up to move and Grief Chair went with me. Six months later, I moved again and left it in storage. The absence of it in my daily world didn’t mean it was gone, just that I was moving forward and it was taking up a different space in my life for a bit.
It wasn’t until the last few weeks, I sensed the need to go get the chair and bring it home. I guess now, on this side of grief, I was ready to make it over.
This week leading up to the anniversary of Dakota’s death, I wrote this post while working on the Grief Chair. As I sat to glue and mend and sand down and restain… I’ve thought about how grief has moved around with me and how I never quite anticipated this mindless little purchase three years ago would be such a treasured possession. The whole process has given me the opportunity to really look back on everything I’ve learned so far:
First, sitting in grief is wildly uncomfortable. Early on, it’s overwhelming and everywhere and takes up such a large space in your life. And then over time, you start to shift it around the room. Sometimes life gets busy and you pile other things on top of it. Other times grief sits raw and uncovered.
Grief is something I’ve become accustomed to living with even though it changes throughout the years. Eventually, it may not be quite as prominent in your daily functioning. Until one day, by necessity, you find yourself needing to sit in it again.
Grief is a constant reminder you have loved well and lost greatly.
My hope, though, is in grief and in talking about grief, the people in our circles are able to see ways to love, serve, support, and care for. That the grievers don’t feel quite so lonely, and the supporters don’t feel quite so helpless.
There isn’t a cure for grief besides Heaven. So until then, I will keep living with her in the healthiest ways I know how to.
I imagine one day, Grief Chair will make an appearance at my wedding, holding space for the ones we miss. I imagine Grief Chair will be present when I build a house and raise a family and grow a community.
It will represent an open invitation for anyone who may need to come and sit…wildly uncomfortable but wholly seen.
I imagine Grief Chair will live with me always.
Over time, like grief, she will shift about the room and remain as a story-keeper for the generations after me as they learn how to love their people well, even at the risk of losing greatly.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley King. Visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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