The airport felt more like an amusement park with people lined up elbowing their way to the front of the rollercoaster line. I slowly shuffled forward a couple of steps at a time. Normally, I love people watching, creating stories in my head for the elderly couple holding hands behind me or the young mom with a toddler whose diaper bag keeps sliding off her shoulder. As I made my way through security, I pulled my suitcase behind me. I couldn’t indulge in such fantasy. The feeling of isolation was too great for me to focus on anything but the weight in my chest. How was life still moving so rapidly around me for so many when time seemed to stand still for me?
Grief is ironic that way. The weight of it seems to only burden its victim. It’s suffocating pain invisible to others. People all around were on their way to carefree vacations where they could spend their days disconnecting from real life or traveling back to their comfort zones at home. After two weeks, which ended in more heartbreak than I thought possible when it began, I was headed home. However, the notion of carefree or comfort were now foreign to me. Devastating loss will do that to you. It seeps into your being in such a way that it seems impossible to sever it from your very soul.
I made my way through my travels that day, lugging that suitcase everywhere I went. An official sounding voice boomed through the airport, “Do not leave bags unattended” providing a constant reminder to monitor your belongings. Every traveler I crossed took that warning seriously. They always had a hand on their bag or situated it just close enough to reach out and touch it at a moment’s notice. In line for coffee, peeking out from under the bathroom stall, on the seat next to them at Gate D29.
My striped OGIO had a permanent home at my side too. And much like my suitcase I lugged my grief all over that airport. Never left unattended because grief is no different. Like our suitcase through the airport, it holds us hostage. We can’t take one single step without dragging it along with us. It goes where we go. If you’ve experienced flight delays and been stuck in an airport for endless hours, pacing from one gate to the next out of sheer boredom, you know how exhausting it is to lug your bags with you. The handle starts to dig in. The strap cuts off your circulation. You start to alternate from one arm to the other. You want to set stuff down even if just to feel a bit lighter for a moment. Grief feels like that. It stays with you long after your trip as you re-enter “normal” life.
The thing is, we eventually unpack that baggage and place it back in the closet where it belongs. While we can’t do that with our heartache, we do learn to live lugging that extra bit of weight around with us. As much pain as our heart is in, we somehow expand it just a bit to make room for our grief. We’ll never have the option of checking it like we do our luggage, but we do learn that we are strong enough to carry it as we move forward with our life.