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When Grief Feels Like a Bully From Your Past

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When a friend mentions the bullying epidemic in America, you tell them you feel for kids these days. It’s not a thing you dealt with growing up. If anything, your classmates were especially gentle.

Well, except for that one kid who moved to town in eighth grade, after your mom died. What was his name again? Oh yeah, Grief.

Grief was a big, relentless monster that terrorized you every day. He made you feel weak and small. He made you cry in front of your friends on days you were so low you got on the school bus with the singular goal of not crying in front of anyone. Fun times were hard to enjoy because you knew Grief was waiting for you outside. One time, you told your dad you were sick so he’d let you stay in your room all day with the lights off. You’re pretty sure he knew it was BS, but he let you have that day because he knew you needed it.

Eventually, Grief paid less attention to you. You survived junior high. Then high school.

Now you’re grown with kids of your own. You go back to your hometown for the holidays. While making the rounds, you run into Grief. He is smaller than you remember. You walk away thinking about the things you wish you’d said. You’re pissed at yourself for letting him off the hook. Suddenly, you feel just as small as you remember.

Your parents watch the kids so you can go to the bar and drink pitchers with old friends. You laugh about the old days. Old days. Oh no. Grief walks into the bar. He must have known you were going to be there. You have more beers, more laughs. You hope nobody knows how much you’re thinking about Grief. They probably don’t. You were always pretty good at hiding that.

Back at your parents’ house, you crack the door to your old bedroom and see your kids sleeping soundly. You grab a beer from the fridge and select the first standup special that pops up on Netflix, but you can’t stop thinking about Grief, who you were then, and who you are now. Then you think about your kids, sleeping in the room where you cried so many nights. You decide if you can’t avenge the scared child you used to be, you’ll never be able to protect your own children.

You confront Grief. Remember me? Not so small anymore, am I?

You invite Grief to take his best shot. He does. He still hits as hard as you secretly feared he might. He knows all the mistakes you beat yourself up over, and the fear your biggest failures are ahead of you, not behind. You realize fighting with a mirror is tough.

You walk back down the hallway and crack the door to your old room again. Your boys are still sleeping peacefully. They’ll expect you to be there when they wake up. They won’t care if your eyes are red from crying all night. They’ll be happy to see you. They love you. All of you.

You don’t love all of you, but you’re a survivor and you love that. You realize the tears Grief caused aren’t signs of weakness. They are simply a reminder of all you’ve lost, and through them, you see all you’ve gained. And you’re proud. You have something to fight for.

A version of this story originally appeared on Medium.

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Image via Thinkstock Images

Originally published: December 5, 2016
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