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Grief is a Bone Marrow Wound



In May of 2016, I took a hard fall and broke my arm in two places. I tore my shirt (landed in a bush tree), ripping easily through the material and my favorite tattoo. As both wounds healed, I began to realize something I'd never before known about what happens when our beloved dies: It's much more like a broken bone than a flesh wound.

I've often heard academics speak of grief as a surface wound. Apparently, they've never broken a bone. And neither had I. But I was living the ideal representation of what it was like for me when my daughter died.

The surface wound, while often likened to grief, is visible. It will heal in weeks and there will be a scar that will be visible. And people will know, "Oh this person was wounded there."

The broken bone, on the other hand, takes far longer to feel "normal" again but it will never

be what it once was when it was whole and uncracked. The wound, once the cast comes off, is far from healed. It is deep, so deep that it is invisible to the naked eye. But the wounded person feels the fracture in the most primal place, the place that cannot be touched by anything else: the marrow. It's healing is only done to the extent that the arm becomes usable again. But the bone remembers the injury to itself, its irreparable nature, and while it may appear as it once was, there are nuances that make themselves known from only the inner crevices. There is this ache that cannot be soothed even months and years later, even if everything looks "fine" from the outside. Others may be to give salve to make the ache dissipate; but it is to no avail. The ache is what it is. The place where the bone cracked will always show itself, responding to weather, certain movements, and even in reaction to an insensitive touch by another.

Three months after my cast came off, and I could finally do push ups again. But when I first tried, the pain was so acute that tears came to my eyes. It took weeks of rehabilitation and patience with myself to come where I am now: 40 painful pushups. Slow, steady, and unrushed rehabilitation. 

To lose the one we so deeply love is a bone-shattering experience. It's not a flesh wound; wounds of the flesh are easily healed. But bone wounds may never heal to the extent that the bones become what they were before the wounding.

This grief, and this love, lives deep in my marrow, her absence achingly painful yet the pain is also beautiful, always reminding me of what I had, reminding me of what I lost, and reminding me, through that ache, what I still have, now, even in this moment. And for that, I am reluctantly grateful.





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© 2020 Joanne Cacciatore, Ph.D.