Grief is like an Onion

Shrek: Ogres are like onions.

Donkey: They stink?

Shrek: Yes. No.

Donkey: Oh, they make you cry.

Shrek: No.

Donkey: Oh, you leave em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.

Shrek: No. Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.

Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions.

Like the physical pain of CIPN, the grief was not easily dismissed. It followed me everywhere, an unacknowledged companion.

Over the years, I’d gotten quite skilled at denying its presence. My smile was ever ready, and I wielded it frequently. Moments of honest introspection were silenced by the voice in my head that admonished me to “keep positive,” or to “not let this get to me.”

Over time, yoga broke through that first line of defence by bringing the damage in my body into a clear focus. Scaling back, holding the geometrical pattern of each pose and breathing soothed my frame, but it also forced my heart to face reality. I could no longer pretend away lifelong limitations. Usually by the time I sat down for meditation at the end of a class, tears slipped quietly down my face, and the smile was drowned momentarily.

Ever resourceful, though, my mind brought out another tool to help me dodge the homework of grieving: bargaining. “At least you’re still alive.” As soon as this thought popped into my head, I’d shut down the heartache, square my shoulders, and smile once more. “At least you don’t have to work any more” was another frequent bargaining chip, allowing me to dismiss my sadness under the guise of gratitude. “It could always be worse!” My mind liked to remind me of this, too, when frustration welled up as I dropped things, struggled to zip up my coat, or had to ask my husband to help me with simple tasks. These thoughts were useful in helping me through moments where breaking down in public just wasn’t an option. Yet they also prevented me from making progress in rebuilding my life. I cycled between denial and bargaining, shrugging off opportunities to fully embrace the heartbreak.

Underneath it all, I was afraid I’d be swallowed entirely by the losses. It was much easier to wear the smile of Little Miss Congeniality, and slam the lid down on the malaise that welled up.

Peeling back the layers of loss, and allowing myself to mourn, was a lonely proposition. I missed the old me, longed to use that grin to weave and dodge away the psychological work that healing required.

But class after class, the “Soft Kitty chair” beckoned me to let go of the denials, to recognize the trick of bargaining, and to welcome the grief as a companion, too, along the path to a new life.

Once again, these new tools arrived just in time, because new challenges lay just around the corner. If I’d known they were coming, I would have crawled up on that internal ledge and parked myself there. But doing so would mean relinquishing these steps of progress- and I was loathe to turn back or quit navigating the turbulent journey through this season of grief.

2 thoughts on “Grief is like an Onion

  1. Hi Cindi I just love reading your blog. Just like you I have baried the greif. Mostly because that is what the people around me want. They don’t really want to hear about how hard it is. They want to know that I am a fighter and can put all these feeling behind me. So I try but latley it is getting harder to pretend that all is back to normal. I will never be normal again. I have to except the new normal. I have to live with the fact that the doctors have never said I am in remission. What does that mean? When I talk about the fact that I could still die they say no one knows how long they have. So I barry the feeling and try not to talk about it. Your blog shows me that I am not the only person who is struggling with the feelings. I really want to shove them down real deep and not feel them. However God does not want me to do that. You are very brave to talk about how you are feeling and struggling. I am so greatful that you do. I am also so greatful God sent Pete to our camp this summer because I wouldn’t have ever found your blog. God Bless you. Jo Ann

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    1. Hi Jo Ann I’m so very glad you’re drawing comfort from the blog. It’s good to have company and you are one of the reasons I write the blog. I know there is a certain way we have been trained to speak about our cancer experience: be positive! You are a warrior! Fight! But I found these expectations glib and not helpful. My hope is that you will discover that the faith you have is up to the challenges of an honest dialogue in your prayers. I’ve discovered that while many humans are not often able to accompany me in these moments of doubt, fear and struggle, the example of Jesus is that we are never alone in the Gethsemane experiences of our lives. It’s ok to find the lack of the word “remission” frightening and to acknowledge that you are worried when none of your doctors use it. Jesus himself experienced fear and struggled with the path he was on. As you face whatever is ahead, know that you are not alone. You have company and you are welcome to be honest and transparent.

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