She was gone, and, well ... I had questions.
This brief essay is dedicated to Janice Walton, writer of, She knows this topic well, and is a fine teacher.
I thought I knew what grief was, but I was wrong. I thought it meant sadness. I had never truly experienced grief in my life, except for maybe when I was thirty, and the man I loved more than life itself went off in search of a woman he could love more than life itself. It was only fair, but still, it was tragic that I could not be that woman for him.
I cried a lot, but I always knew that someday he would see that he was wrong and that he would come back to me. I only had to wait. Nine years later, somewhere in a very shallow crease of my subconscious, I still waited for him to find his way “home”, even though he’d married and had three children by then. As Jane Austin said in Persuasion, “The one claim I shall make for my own sex is that we love longest, when all hope is gone.” More’s the pity.
But it was not until many years later, when I lost my mother that I understood what grief really was. Horrifying, is what it was. Death. It is so... final. No do- overs, no chance for atonement. She was definitely not coming back, and the moans and animal-like howls that issued from my throat for days were truly frightening. I didn’t know I was even capable of creating such a clamor. I was so absolutely distraught, I couldn’t even think of planning a funeral. I just needed to be locked away in a soft room all by myself and not set free until I had regained a measure of self-control.
She was my best friend, after all, for my entire long life. She lived with me for years. We shared everything. In her last few months, I did everything for her, including, in the end, brushing her teeth, feeding, dressing and bathing her. And when she died, I was no longer needed— for anything, by anyone. One would think that would be somehow liberating, but it wasn’t.
I was retired, my son was grown and no longer needed me. (And why not? I raised him to be strong and independent.) And when mom was gone, well... I had questions! Who was I now? What was my purpose? And would this grief ever go away?
I know of a man who suddenly lost his family. His wife and children, whom he had treasured, suddenly deserted him. Desperately trying to understand why it happened, he’s waiting for the grief to abate so he can get on with living. I wish I could tell him that grief goes away, but it doesn’t. Why should it? Love and grief are always hand in hand. Whether your loved one chooses to go away or if they are taken, it is all the same. Where there is love there is always potential for great loss, and for grief.
I am not an expert on this subject, obviously. I can only speak from the personal viewpoint of someone who has experienced it for several years. But I now realize we will always have a huge, empty, aching space inside us when loved ones are lost. If the grief eases at all, it is only because we learn to make a place for it in our lives, we give it a home. When someone we love leaves us, our love doesn’t end, and it needs to go somewhere. It goes to grief — we learn to accommodate it and go on living.
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