The Oniony Layers of Grief

This was originally published in Vivid and Brave last year – I seem to be having quite a few friends who are going through a tough time right now, search and I thought I would share this again:

When my husband died, health a wise woman told me that grief was like an onion. I had no idea what she meant at the time, healing though I’m sure I nodded my head in agreement as if I did know. Now that I look back, it all makes sense now, and it could not be a truer statement.

Oh onions, you make most of us cry.

There are so many correlations between onions and grief. Their papery thin exterior mistakenly leads us to believe that getting through should be relatively easy.

The start of grief is just like that thin onion skin. So fragile. It comes off in tiny pieces. You want it to come off faster, to be gone faster, so you pull harder and it just rips to shreds. The realization that you must delve into the process of grieving loss by slowly and deliberately pulling those thin layers off comes at some point, but it takes time and levels of frustration that you did not know exist. Eventually, you become practiced at pulling off the layers. You may get frustrated and inwardly want to move faster, but it becomes apparent that the moment you start rushing things again, it will all fall to pieces around you.

This need to rush will happen at all stages. That is ok, that is normal, that is expected. Do not beat yourself up, just slow down and keep moving.

As you move to the inner layers and the steps of “recovery”, we discover that they are deeper and denser than we ever imagined. We peel these layers off, and our eyes start to water. We begin to lose the numbness that surrounded our first moments of loss – those first thin layers of anger, frustration, and burgeoning emotion. We begin to delve into the stinging layers of tearful emotion.

We must cry, a little at first – then the onion burns our eyes more and more. We fight it off, say “if I am strong I can do better” but then we realize as the tears fall down our faces, that we are no match for our body’s needs. We need cry to flush our eyes of the burn and the hurt and the sadness. Embrace it, you’ll feel much better that way. The more you hold your tears back, the worse it burns.

Eventually this whole process opens up to the sweet center of possible new life – green shoots breaking through. The end of tears, and the relief that it is less painful.

When a person loses someone and remarks that they just want to get through this pain and get it over with, or that they feel better than they thought they would, or that they are frustrated and embarrassed that they “aren’t farther along”, I desperately want to tell them it will get better, just to lean in to it and really take their time. Not to listen to others about a “time line” that they should abide to. There is no time line. That onion should take them as long as they need. Rushing just makes it more painful and frustrating. You could cut yourself – do more damage – and be in pain longer than you need to be.

Take your time with those layers. Bit by bit you start feeling, bit by bit your sadness and crying increase from that pain, but bit by bit that emotion gets you closer to the sweet center of new life. Grief is most certainly like an onion. Just peel off the layers.

Onion grief

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