There are probably many people in this world who have absolutely no fear of snakes. I am not one of those people . . . which made finding one over the kitchen window when I walked into the house at 11:00 one night a less than desirable event. Please note. I said “over the kitchen window”, as in sprawled across the trim eight and one half feet above the floor. It was just stretched out there lookin’ at me as I stood debating what to do with an errant snake that was hangin’ out . . . eight and a half feet overhead.
Long story short, I woke up my husband, drug him into the kitchen, handed him a broom (to match the one I was already holding) and together we banished the snake to the azaleas beside the porch. There was a bit more to it than that, including the snake disappearing into a cabinet through a hole meant only for cords—which then necessitated the emptying of said cabinet and the drawer above it while trying to find the snake . . . again. And then realizing the snake had gone back out the cord hole and was hiding under the stuff that had fallen over on top of the desk when I moved the computer trying to get to the cord hole before the snake did.
I didn’t sleep very well that night.
As I lay there, wide-eyed and somewhat anxious regarding the possibility of our friend having friends, I tried distracting myself by playing the Alphabet Game and then counting sheep (which turned into snakes) and then finally considering this week’s blog. And as the night wore on, I began to realize that close encounters of the reptilian kind provide an excellent analogy for the all-consuming nature of Grief.
Think about it. Better yet, don’t. I’ll just explain.
The event or events that generate grief generally begin abruptly—the equivalent of finding a snake in the most unnatural of places. Perhaps it’s a medical diagnosis you aren’t expecting, either for yourself or someone you love. Perhaps it’s the sudden death, either accidental or from natural causes, of someone close to you. Perhaps it’s something less life threatening but still life altering, such as the loss of a job or other financial difficulties. Any of these circumstances—and so many more—can give Grief the foothold it needs to consume you.
Now, every time I walk into the kitchen, can you guess the first place my eyes go? If you said (or thought) the kitchen window, you’d be correct. And then I look at the other kitchen window . . . and I wonder what might be on top of the cabinets that I can’t see. My eyes scan the floor and the counter tops and the sink . . . anywhere a snake might hide in plain sight. If I’m sticking my hand in the cat food bucket or the dog food bag, now I look first. It’s becoming a habit, and one I’d prefer not to have. But I just can’t help it. The memory of that snake looking back at me is simply too fresh to easily dismiss. Grief works the same way. Every time you walk into a particular room, your eyes may be immediately drawn to the recliner they once occupied or the book they never had the chance to finish. But Grief is a sneaky devil (not unlike a snake). It doesn’t limit its triggers to household objects. Grief may use a shared song or a favorite TV show, a smell or a place to take you back in time and remind you of everything you lost in that moment.
I’m sure over time my snake radar will settle down and I won’t be compelled to consider every nook and cranny as a possible den of vipers. Just as the memory of that night will fade in its intensity, so Grief will eventually step back and allow you some measure of control over your own thoughts and actions. The tears won’t flow as freely and there’ll be more smiling when that person crosses your mind. But that doesn’t mean it has permanently left the premises. I have now learned the ugly lesson that my house isn’t snake-proof; Grief teaches that same lesson, for once it enters your world, it never truly leaves. It just grows quieter, waiting for that perfect moment to make its presence known once more.
So, that’s the analogy that occurred to me after a rather exciting and definitely unexpected evening with Randy (that’s what I named him . . . Randy the Rat Snake . . .). Fortunately, with the help of my sleep-deprived husband, I was able to “relocate” Randy, herding him back out into the world from whence he came. And although we will, with time, be able to adjust to the losses of this world and the grief that ensues, the key word here is “adjust”. I don’t have to live with a snake in the house forever. Rather than adjusting to his presence I can send him on his way. Grief is not so easily banished, and for most of us once encountered it will become a life-long companion.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.