A few years ago a dear friend of mine lost the love of her life. She lost him so brutally, so early in the life they were building that just bearing witness to the retelling would take your breath away.
At one point we walked along the water in LIC, talking like we weren’t surrounded by people, the grief our third wheel. I knew as we walked that she would get through this, the surety of it the kind of divine gift I’ve grown more accustomed to receiving with age. But later as I laid in bed, my eyes welling with tears at recounting her pain I remember asking the darkness, “But why does she have to?”
I guess the answer is, because we all must. It’s such an intrinsic part of life but no one talks much about the grief in living, in growing older. We focus on the joy, the lessons, the highlights, perhaps because in our shared superstitions, grief is so inevitable, so boundless that to discuss its fathoms could be a means by which to summon its typhoon.
And grief is an insidious thing. It sneaks in quietly, typically; an aging grandparent. A relationship you thought would go the distance.
And then it gets its teeth.
A classmate too young for what befell them. A divorce so messy, so ugly that everyone left in its wake is fundamentally changed. A you that you must mourn as you work through your shit and it dies to you a little more everyday. Maybe as you grow older a parent, lost before you’ve hit the milestones you’d want them by your side for. And god forbid you’re left to grieve a child.
There is no magic bullet for grief. No trite saying or tidy practice that will contain the sorrow that accompanies loss. And the cruelest thing is, if you are living well, you’ll find yourself with so much to lose.
It’s terrifying. And heavy. And it’s why when we observe grief we almost always seek to alleviate it. To turn away. To make it lighter, easier, more comfortable. Without even realizing, what we’re really asking is that we feel less swallowed by mourning, for the opportunity to ignore that time- and sometimes life- is coming for us all.
I’ve only learned 3 things about grief and none of them are preventative.
- You will lose. If you’re living, you will lose. Even if you divorce yourself from the desire to let anything matter enough to feel like loss, you’ve lost the chance for something to matter.
- There is nothing you can say. There is no phrase or psalm that will pull someone out of the depths of grief. Nothing you say will make it easier and much of what you think to say will make it worse.
- But you can get down in the shit with them. Follow them deep down the dark caverns their grief drags them to, a small reminder of light and a path bearer back out when they’re ready. Let them mourn and weep and rage without bumping into the confines of “appropriate”, ready to offer a hand to grasp in the darkness when grief threatens to drown them. Show up and let it be uncomfortable. Let it be messy and ugly and weird and intense. There’s love there too.
I don’t believe in ‘better to have loved and lost’ and blah blah blah. That’s bullshit.
But I do believe in people. In the brazen bravery it takes to give a fuck when so much about this world and the way we’ve come to live in it dictates that it’s better not to care. Not to invest, not to connect.
What a remarkable thing to know stakes is high, but being willing to roll the dice anyway.
But live, too.