On Loss You Can Never Get Back and a Grief Your Body Won’t Forget

I reached out to a friend on Voxer who knows the darkness and the hard places well, who is about as truthful an advocate for telling your whole story as anyone I know.

I talked to her about the growing darkness that was hovering over me and threatening to suffocate. I looked at my phone as I spoke to the green blinking safety line that told me she was listening on the other end. And as I did, I saw the date.

Almost May.

Suddenly, so much made sense–well, at the very least the kind of sense I’ve come to make of trauma and loss and grief and post-traumatic stress over the last seven years.

I understood with a new certainty the dizziness and tingling hands that even WebMD would not diagnose as a fatal malady but figured as sure signs of anxiety. I knew why my chest had been unusually heavy in the last few days, and why I’m finding it hard to breathe in crowded spaces and when I am too much alone.

And I found the reason for the feeling of everything being too loud, too fast, too demanding but not wanting to sit still and silent either had an explanation.

“Oh gosh,” I told her. “It’s almost May. I just reaized it. It is like my body knew it was May before my brain did.”

May is a month of hard places for me. May marks the growing up of big kids in oddly certain ways. In May, the littlest boy in the band of brothers, the baby who was never meant to be the baby, turns a year older. And in May, I march the timeline of the final weeks of my pregnancy with my sweet Bryce, and finally, the day of his birth. This year, it is the day he would have turned seven, but I don’t really experience it as that as much as I remember his actual birth and all the hope the day held, a hope so unexpectedly short-lived. May too marks my third of four miscarriages, a particularly cruel one, with the pink plus showing up on the day of Bryce’s birthday and bleeding out just five short days later.

I realized in that Voxer conversation that I had been physically gripped by grief before I felt it on an emotional level.

One of the countless issues I have with seeing grief as a neat and tidy list of linear phases is that I firmly believe that grief has a hard-wired, biological/physiological component that may coordinate neatly with our emotional awareness or response or that may do its own thing altogether before we even have time to consciously process our reactions.

Google would like to tell me that the concept of cellular memory is pseudo-science, call it speculative. I would bet Google has never walked around inside a traumatized, grieving body before.

Because I am quite certain that my body remembers grief as surely as my mind and soul do. I wholeheartedly believe that the reason why my heart is still slippery with grief these seven long years later is because I hold it in my being in the most basic component of who I am, the very cellular makeup of my personhood.

This, I think, is why grief and trauma change us in permanent ways, mark us indelibly. They affect us at the deepest level of our organic composition. And that kind of memory doesn’t travel a straight, linear path to healing.

think it is more likely that grief travels always in a concentric spiral back in, back in, and back further in, always pulling at the pain left at the deepest levels of us and drawing it up and out. Sometimes the up and out is a familiar spill of tears and sadness and sometimes it is an ambigious cloud of anxiety we struggle to identify.

But always there is the traveling back in and the pulling back out of the newness of the pain.


Because our cells, they remember our grief and hold it for us. And as they live and die in cycles, the shape of the pain they hold changes.

We live in a constantly metamorphosing grief.

I suppose we could want to write that off as pseudo-science because we see it as a bleak reality–a writing off of the possibility of healing.

There are probably many well-meaning Christians who would tell me that the Spirit too can work at the cellular level and change the make up of our beings.

And they are surely right too.

I think what I am finding out in this long labrynth walk is that they are not two separate propositions. That the Spirit lives and moves in the grieving and the groaning of my cells, in the unexpected resurfacing of my pain, in the oozing of old wounds.

The Spirit reminds me I am ever Lazarus, wound up and decaying, and being breathed back to life by His voice, all at the same time.

Maybe the cellular memory of grief is teaching me that resurrection too is not a linear path, but a constant spiraling back in to the dark place and being pulled out again into the light.

Maybe I am the little girl thought to be dead, who hears Him call, “Rise, precious one.” And then slips back into dreamy sleep a short while later, waiting to hear Him call again.

Faith too might spurned as the thing of early myths and legends. Faith and cellular memory both.

But I know this: my living, breathing body is a testament to their realness.

The tightness in my chest and tingling in my hands are sure signs of one, while my taking the next breath anyway and reaching out for the hem of His garment testify to the truth of the other.

Yes, my cells remember both grief and Spirit-spoken hope. Just as I think they remember death’s sleep and resurrection’s rising.

And I think the very cellular makeup of me is loved fully by the God who lived both sides of that reality.

And so I keep breathing through the tightness, and winding back in to the darkness and surfacing with another handful of pain, while my fingers tingle still with the hope of one day touching His face.

It is hard to know whether my breath is short for the pain or the joy of it all.

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Colleen Mitchell
Colleen Mitchell is wife to Greg and mother to five amazing sons here on earth and five precious little ones in heaven. Since 2011, she and her husband serve in Costa Rica where they run the St. Francis Emmaus Center, a ministry that welcomes indigenous mothers into their home. She works out what it means to love mercy, act justly and walk humbly with God at her blog Blessed Are the Feet. Her first book, Who Does He Say You Are: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels, releases next month.