Grief: The Hardest Journey

by Jennifer N. Fenwick

January 17 marks three years since my best friend was taken. Three years since I last heard her voice, saw her smile. I’ve felt her absence in every day that has passed, and wished with all my heart I could spend just one more moment in her presence.

Alisa with her daughter, Grace, and her son, Grant, the summer before she passed.

On January 17, 2017, Alisa, my best friend of over thirty years was violently taken from us. The shock that tore through her family, our lives, and the community was profound. It was a senseless act of violence, unnecessary and unfathomable. In the days that followed, the grief would slam into my body like a physical force. There were moments I could not breathe. There were so many questions. I just wanted someone to tell me why?

In the moment I wept for Alisa’s sweet Mom, who had lost her first daughter to leukemia years before, and who would now have to bury her second, and only child. I wept for her beautiful children, the two young souls who needed her most, loved her best, and would now experience all the joys and hurts of life without her. I wept for her big, loving family who would now mourn her passing and feel her absence in every moment, every gathering, and every holiday to come.

Grant and Grace attending a family wedding in 2019.

I wept for her friends, those of us lucky enough to have shared her life, no matter how long or short a time that was. She was the best kind of friend, because she gave and loved with her whole heart. I wept for our community, for a light had just been extinguished. She was a caring, devoted volunteer who gave of her time and resources so readily, so selflessly.

Top Left: Alisa on her graduation from Florida State University. Bottom Left: Grant’s graduation from Troy State University, 2019. Right: Grace and Grant at Grace’s high school graduation, 2019.

I wept for my own loss, the loss of the woman who was more sister than friend, more soul mate than confidante. The woman who had shared so many of the milestones in my life. The woman I was fortunate enough to spend over half of my career working beside, traveling with, and collaborating with. The woman who knew me so well, she could comfort me without words, admonish me with a look. The woman who could finish my sentences, and who supported me without question, without fail through my father’s passing, my daughter’s battle with cancer, and through my own struggles.

Grief is one of the most devastating emotions we, as humans, are called upon to feel. The loss of a loved one touches our souls in a way few other things ever do. It calls upon us to remember, while at the same time keenly and deeply feeling the absence of the one we’ve lost. The loss is finite. At least in this life.

Memories of Alisa. Left: I snapped this image of Alisa before she attended a ball, circa 1997. Top Right: Alisa with our dear friend Linda Artman on one of Linda’s first flights after receiving her pilot’s license. Bottom right: Alisa with my daughter, Nichole and the puppy she received for her 5th birthday, circa 1994.

The Beginning of Grief

In the beginning of grief, the pain is so profound, the heartache so deep, the loss so present, so immediate, that time seems frozen. Life is lived painfully and ever presently in that moment. That gut wrenching moment between what was and what will now be. Life is forever changed, marked by that second, that single second between one breath and the absence of the next.

The Middle of Grief

In the middle of grief, the pain comes in waves, ebbing and flowing as the days, weeks, months, and eventually the years move forward. At times there’s a brokenness never before experienced. At least, it feels that way. Other times there’s anger; for being left behind; for not being given the chance to say goodbye; or for not saying the goodbye you would have, had you but known.

Sometimes, a simple thing like a smell, or a song or a photograph propels you right back to that moment; that second when it all changed. Other times, you find you can smile, even feel joy remembering moments shared. The steps forward are small. You find courage you didn’t know you’d need and strength you never knew you possessed. Life resumes in this markedly changed realty you now exist in, but it never quite falls back into place. You never truly let go. Instead, you hold firmly to the memories, to the cherished moments, keeping alive the legacy left behind.

The End of Grief? 

I’m not certain there is an end to grief. I think eventually there is acceptance and healing. The kind of healing that leaves scars you are honored to wear. For in those scars lie the memories, the moments, the beautiful essence of a life that was.

If you’re lucky, you carry them with you along with the comforting knowledge that you’ll meet again, remember, and love again in the life to come. That’s the promise. The promise that allows you to bear the absence. The promise that pulls you through the pain to the other side. The promise that allows you to breathe again, laugh again, and live on.

The truth about grief?

It’s part of life because death is part of life. Grief is a natural part of our existence. It’s the process we go through to keenly experience the loss, but also to heal so we can live on.

In truth, grief is a byproduct of love. For how else could we hurt so much, if we had not first, loved so deeply?

Maybe it’s absence that causes our grief. The knowledge that we’ll never breath the same air again. Never live inside the same moment. Never add another chapter to the story of us.

It’s the absence that hurts the most. Holding all these words I’ll never get to say. Living all these moments without you in them. Longing to hear your voice just one more time. That’s what grief really is, after all. Absence. And hers is everywhere.

Jennifer N. Fenwick

4 thoughts on “Grief: The Hardest Journey

  1. This is beautiful what you wrote about Alisa and grief. I lost my baby boy soon to be 5 years ago (17 years old), Matty Carroll, and I do not think the grief ever leaves. Thank you for sharing your insighhtfulness and heart with us. May God bless you and sustain you.

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