Does It Get Better?

By Sara Barry

I have a friend whose son died recently. He wasn’t a baby, but he was her baby, the one who first made her a mother. She’s been walking around in that fog of early grief unable to do much, sometimes feeling almost OK and other times feeling steamrollered.

“Does it get better?” she asked.

And my mind sifted through images of me alone in the house on a dark winter night feeling like this was not my home, searching in the blue light of a computer screen for a story like mine …

walking my cousin’s baby on the beach that first summer after Henry died, crying into her hair …

waiting for the bus that Henry never got on …

holding Kathleen for the first time as the darkness of a year of Henry gone settled around me …

standing on a hill in the cold, dark night on the anniversary of Henry’s death years later feeling joy welling up . . .

Does it get better?

Some say it gets better. Others say it gets different. Either way it takes time. I tend to tell people the brutal truth: Year 1 is almost unbearable, and year 2 is harder. Usually I tell them as they start in on year 2, floundering, struggling, wondering if there is something wrong with them that they aren’t “better.”

Does it get better?

It does, but it takes longer than we expect. It does, but it takes longer than we’d like.

You know how a stomach bug slams you hard, then once it passes, you are weak and exhausted for a long time afterward? You can’t do what you usually do. You wonder why you’re not back to normal.

Grief is like that too. It wipes you out for a long time.

And then it does get better. We refill our reserves. We get stronger again. We get more practiced in answering the hard questions. We get more used to telling our story and seeing kids of a certain age.

Does it get better? Will I ever be happy again? Yes and yes.

How can I live a full life with a huge hole in my heart?

You just do.

You tend the hole, tend your loss, and you open to life around you. You let love and joy and beauty in. You let yourself be loved. You let yourself be filled. You keep missing and your heart fills up at the same time. You don’t have to know how, you just have to open enough for it to happen.