I’m Wearing a Grief Backpack
On one of my recent daily walks, I listened to an “Office Ladies” podcast in which Jenna Fischer shared her ongoing struggle with anxiety. She used the analogy of a backpack to describe the burden she lives with. Some days it weighs her down, while other days she barely notices it. Acknowledging that her backpack will always be with her was a mental shift that helped her cope. I appreciated her vulnerability, and her backpack analogy resonated with me.
I also carry a backpack. Mine is grief.
I was given a grief backpack nearly 11 years ago when my husband, Todd, was diagnosed with ALS. Initially, I read books about grief and met with a counselor, desperately trying to find a way to get this thing off my back. I eventually realized that it is here to stay.
Some days the backpack is heavy, such as when Todd experiences more decline, I see other families go on trips, take hikes, or do other activities I wish we could do together, or I feel weary from caregiving.
Now that I have a grief backpack, I’m on the lookout for others wearing them. They are the ones who understand. There are a few sensitive souls who are born with such a backpack, but many of us don’t get our grief backpacks until our lives are upended by something catastrophic like ALS.
Those in the ALS community — people who have the disease or love someone with the disease — are all wearing grief backpacks.
Our backpacks are stuffed with lost dreams and abilities.
They are full of jobs we can no longer do, friends we no longer see, and favorite shared activities we can’t participate in.
Anticipatory grief climbs in. Even while we still have our loved ones, we grieve a future without them.
Some days my grief backpack feels lighter.
When the sun is shining and we drive to the beach to sit on the shore of Lake Superior.
When we have a family movie night and laugh together at a comedy.
When we sit on our outdoor patio, warmed by a fire in the chimenea, and we watch the kids play volleyball in the soft, evening sunlight.
When a friend calls or comes over for a cup of tea.
When I go for my walk and take in the beautiful scenery near our house while listening to a delightful episode of “Office Ladies” podcast.
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