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March 25, 2024

The Day my Grief Spilled Over.

A friend & mother, her child—suddenly gone.

“Break often—not like porcelain, but like waves.” ~ Scherezade Siobhan

Last week, I received devastating news. A friend and her baby had passed away.

We had grown out of touch, as friends in different places do, but she was the type of woman whose left a lasting impression…she had always brought a moments of joy and a light to the moments of pain in our lives.

So when friends started sharing the news on social media, my immediate reaction was shock, and denial. How could a woman so athletic, strong, bright, and unstoppable in life lose her life, shortly after losing her dear daughter?!

The news had me treading at the convergence of personal and collective grief.

My grief cascade went like this:

I read the news about my friend, cried immediately. Like a dam breaking, like a single drop catalyzing into a flood, like I felt every mother’s pain and every child’s pain…it was the same day Kate Middleton, a mother with young children and a family to care for, was practically forced to publicly share about her cancer diagnosis and treatment after weeks of mockery. Families lost their lives in an attack at a Moscow concert hall. Devastating updates from Gaza and mass suffering around the world continued to roll in…and, opened, I felt it all, deeply.

And the feeling of it all made me think of 1st grade Science class.

Surface tension and covalent bonds. The Penny Experiment.

 

In The Penny Experiment, an overwhelmingly full glass of water is placed on a table, and excited or confused or indifferent children’s faces gather around. The teacher (beloved Ms. Horton, in my case) carefully drops pennies into the waterglass, one by one, pausing for dramatic effect before another penny is dropped in. With each drop, the surface area of the water rises, widens, and binds together, becoming sheet-like, until finally, one final penny causes the water to flood over. Excited, confused, and indifferent children’s reactions follow.

I didn’t know The Penny Experiment would be the first metaphor I would think of to describe my trip down the grief-well on an otherwise ordinary Friday morning. The water before the break is “keeping it all together,” the masking of our grievances. From a physics perspective, quite literally this is “surface tension.” In the writing out of this experience, I can pinpoint the accumulation of pennies that caused the surface tension to break into a puddle.

Third-to-last-penny:

I was grieving, missing being near close girlfriends. Since moving from my hometown several years ago, I crossed the rite of passage of parenthood alone, at the start of the pandemic, single parenting too far from friends and family. Would she and I have remained closer if I had stayed? I grieved being far from other friends mourning her loss.

A penny, a stretch, an increase surface tension of grief.

Second-to-last-penny:

For years, I worked as a doula and clinical yoga therapist on the high-risk labor and delivery unit of a hospital. I saw the full spectrum of birth experiences: easeful, joyful births; ordinary, mundane births; difficult births; births that end in loss. In hearing the news of my friend, she became every patient I worked with. All the unprocessed grief from those years on the unit were a copper Lincoln in the waterglass.

Last penny:

I had to face my own mortality and the mortality of all those I love. She was young, fit…a powerhouse, really. Her passing is a wake up call to the sometimes fragile and always unpredictable nature of life.

Cue the spill.

So what to do? How to navigate such overwhelming grief at her untimely loss?

Remaining open to my pain, paying attention to the wake up call that is loss and death, being available to my friends that knew and loved her, allowing the untamable joy inside of me all the way out as she so coolly demonstrated during her too-short time here, and of course, holding my baby boy super close…

…these are the the practices I hope to invoke in tribute to her.

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Kelsey Kraemer  |  Contribution: 2,695