Climbing Out of That Which Resembles the Grave, but Isn’t

Brianna Albers avatar

by Brianna Albers |

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The banner for Brianna Albers' column depicts a wolf howling against a background of mountains and trees, with the words

I’ll be honest.

I wasn’t sure what to write about. To the point where I briefly considered skipping this week’s column. I try not to, because I’m an overachiever who likes the accomplishment that comes from marking something off my to-do list, but …

I am wrung out. My head is pounding from the good hour and a half I spent crying earlier. My butt hurts — my own fault, because I refuse to get rid of my criminally-tight skinny jeans that are ridiculously uncomfortable and a bear to put on. My eyes are burning — half from crying and half from the needle’s worth of allergens that a nurse shot into my shoulder this morning. I am, for all intents and purposes, dead inside, which is what happens when you’ve had an absolutely buck-wild couple of days.

I won’t bore you with the specifics. This column, while helpful, is not my therapist. But while I was debating whether to skip this week, I remembered one of my favorite poems — a poem I’ve mentioned in previous columns. “The Wolf Finally Frees Itself” is, to a certain extent, my diary, so I pulled up the SMA News Today homepage and searched for the poem in question.

“Part of being disabled,” I wrote in “On Getting Up Again,” “is waking up one morning and wishing you could be done with it all.”

“Ha,” I thought as I scanned the rest of the column. “Past me sure knew what was up.”

“what resembles the grave but isn’t” by Anne Boyer is poetry in disguise. There’s nothing poetic about it. The language is plain — coarse, almost, with a singular thesis. Boyer relies so heavily on this idea of falling into holes that it becomes a refrain. You lose interest halfway through the piece, because it is essentially the same 18 words on repeat.

“Always falling into a hole, then saying ‘ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,’ …”

I don’t know about you, but there’s a kind of magic to crying. That moment of quiet when the tears stop, your breath hiccups, and you realize with startling clarity that you are drowning in the dirt of your transiently human existence. It is, I think, an out-of-body experience. For one brief, miraculous second, you step outside yourself, and see every decision, every word and subconscious thought, that led you to your current state of brokenness. You give yourself the love and care that you would give a child, because no one likes to cry, least of all yourself. (This is called reparenting, for those of you who read this column with the expectation that I will use my master’s degree in counseling.)

You take a breath. You slip back into your body, with its pressure points and criminally-tight skinny jeans. You survey the landscape — used tissues, blotchy face, a vaguely concerned cat. You are surrounded by evidence of death, specifically your death, the version of you that passed away the moment you started to cry.

There is something curious in your chest. Bright and sparking: resurrection morning. You can’t be sure, but you think it might be hope.

You sit for a bit, swaddled in your stinky grave clothes. And then you say, “This is not your grave, get out of this hole.”

This is not your grave. Get out of this hole.

You squeeze one last tear out of your left eye. You stare ardently at your cat’s back paw; she gave up on concern a while back, and is napping blissfully on her blanket-covered tree. You think to yourself that a world with cats is not such an awful place to live. You remember that one Frederick Buechner quote: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

You think of Julian of Norwich. Her words, a prayer you whisper in the dead of night: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” You are saints, you and Julian, living with one foot in the now and one in the not-yet. If she can get out of a hole, so can you.

This is not your grave. Get out of this hole.

Slowly, painstakingly, you put yourself back together. Outside, the sun is shining for the first time in days. You wonder, dimly, if criminally-tight skinny jeans are worth the pain. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, praying all the while, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

You get out of that which resembles the grave but isn’t.

And then you begin again.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


Laura Knapp avatar

Laura Knapp

Wow Brianna, you write so beautifully and so honest. Thanks for sharing your heart.

Brianna Albers avatar

Brianna Albers

Thank you so much, Laura!


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