Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Grief's Coloring Book

My wife's sudden death in her 40s sent me digging through crayons trying to identify my emotions.

Blue Denim holds my cold, clenched fists of anger. Royal Purple radiates the bruise that oozes under my skin. I like green, so I draw each green crayon across the paper, trying to find the right one, but none calm me like being in Yosemite. Shamrock is too bright. Granny Smith Apple is too warm. Forest Green comes close — it's grainy and gray like grief.

The colors of sorrow are the primaries. They’re also a thousand shades. They take me to the edge of what should have been, if she had been allowed to live. I color the hard sky Steel Blue because I no longer believe the True Blue crayon. I color the earth Rojo Oscuro and Maroon because it’s stained with the blood of my dead.

In the left corner I swirl three dark colors — Timberwolf Gray, Silver, Black — but my darkness is different. It’s Pewter. Charcoal. Midnight Slate, and they don’t make those crayons. When a person dies, life is reduced to colors without form, the tohu va vohu (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ) of Genesis, the chaos before there was light, and I struggle to believe that the light will return.

I color outside the lines because grief has erased the boundaries of polite, and destroyed my belief in cause and effect. People say, “Work hard. Follow the rules, and happiness will come.” That curtain in Oz has been yanked down. Compassionate people die. Hateful, greedy, pompous people don’t. At least, not often enough.

Crayons do not speak of ethics, only emotions. They don’t say that she wasn’t supposed to die. They don’t say that the doctor missed something. They don’t say that the paramedics messed up and didn’t restart her heart soon enough, which is what they are trained to do. Isn’t it?

People say, “She’s dead. You have to move on.” They’re right, of course, in time, but her death was wrong and I am never going to be okay with it. I will carry this anger the rest of my life. Somehow I will learn to live with it. Color me Cantankerous Cardinal.

I am a bucket of emotions, swept along in a flood that surges from one feeling to the next, and I can’t control them. I am Vicious Violet. I am Raging Red. I am the Buffaloed Blues.

What is the color of loneliness? What is today’s shade of despair?

I have been broken by something I cannot see or name. This is deeper than melancholy. It’s the Portuguese saudade, of desperately longing to touch her hand once more. Hug her warm body close. See her love for me shining in her eyes. But she is never coming back, and I fear that if I look in too deep, I will see that only emptiness is left.

What crayon is going to color that?

I try every crayon in my box of 96. My paper is a rat’s nest of colored streaks and swirls. The crayons have helped identify what I’m feeling, but they haven't me discern a dream for what comes next.

I create my own colors, and find hope in the wonder of Impossibly Peach. The iridescent sheen of Indigo Bunting. The passion of Totally Mad Magenta. The gossamer shiver of Elusive Moonbeams.


(My gratitude to Amanda Welsh and Adam Oldfield for giving me the crayons.)


  1. Wonderful, Thank you, Mark. I can visualize each emotion by color. Another wonderful tool for the griever.

    1. Your sandbox idea for opening one's grief up is great!

  2. very beautiful, and inspiring, and what color is love?probably many colors and shades.
    "Deep inside, I hunger for something I can’t see. What crayon is able to color that?" so true. there is this emptiness I cannot fill with all the other parts of my life and that part is so connected to him, that part of me left the day he did. take care. love your writing.

    1. Thank you, Melody. Yes, what color is absence?