Three Shards of Grief

Lionel taught me what it meant to be alive in a dead body. He also taught me how to write and how to love. Most of all, he taught be how to grieve. After his death, I put down my pen and lived the kind of dead life he’d railed against for all 76 of his years.

His posthumously published book arrived three months later. It seemed to raise him from his very grave and bring me back to life. That was the beginning of what became a grand search through all his writings. That’s when I found the key: a passage in an old book: He wrote that he didn’t want us to remember him. He wanted us to remember the things he’d rejoiced in, to affirm all he had valued and fought for. That’s how he would have his continuance, so that’s what I began to do. It didn’t erase the grief, but gave me the connection with him that I craved so much. That made the feelings tolerable.

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Grief is an odd process. One death doesn’t prepare you for another. You must start again from scratch each time and navigate it in a new way. When my mother hit fourth stage cancer, pre-emptive grief floored me for over a year. Mourning someone who’s still alive comes with no closure. The long goodbye was the most brutal of my life. I ultimately pushed myself into a voluntary denial.

I said “I love you” a thousand times in the years it took her to die. There aren’t enough days in 100 lifetimes when someone you love is dying, but I took what I could. There were times I wished it would end. Hospice nurses called that normal, but guilt showed up anyway.

You can celebrate a life, but how do you sit easy with a death of that magnitude? I spent two years drowning in some kind of muddy ocean that barely let me breathe, and the only thing that helped was love. I took it from anywhere and everywhere I could, but the emptiness grew anyway. Even with two years’ preparation, I had unfinished business and a whole knot of confusion about a relationship that had not always been easy. I had to comb through it all and find closure for each and every part. I needed to know that she had loved me. It was that simple.

I’ve grieved friends who’ve committed suicide, who’ve been murdered, who’ve died in accidents. Not a single fragment of grief was the same. Sudden death can feel impossible to accept. The absence feels unbearable when there has been no warning, so you must fill the gap between the death and acceptance of that death by being courageous enough to mourn.

As an atheist, I find no comfort in the concept of an afterlife, but I’ve found a way to bring every friend back to life anyway. It’s the only way I know, so I travel this world, not alone, but with an army of loved ones next to me.

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