23.4.18 Passion flower leaf
The older you get, the harder it is to experience a singular grief. Instead, when loss comes again, it doesn't bring something solid and isolated, it brings you a Russian doll.
Feel grief and hidden within it, there are all your past losses, nestled. You feel this new layer and out the others pour, popping into their composite forms until you are sat surrounded by an eager, bleeding crowd of them. Grief is cumulative and to feel one is to feel a little of them all, renewed. This is what I am learning.
I found out that a friend had died. I sat in the garden and remembered him and tried to let all my dolls unpack around my grief for him and for his loved ones, companionably. I tried not to be afraid, to let them unravel through past loss and trauma and guilt, right down to the smallest parts of myself. They just wanted to be close to this thing they knew, that's all. They meant no harm. I tried to sit with all of them in peace, held together by this new layer which wasn't mine to claim as my property, but which I felt a piece of all the same. And I wept for a long time, in the high, safe walls where no one could see me and that was right and good.
Grief makes me feel more connected to other people than almost anything else. There is no single emotion we get to claim as solely ours, but I think grief may be the most shared, the most universal. I would hope love too, but that seems to be more fragile, less guaranteed. There is grief in that too.
I am always so aware that each of us takes turns at this, handing it round like so many boulders. It has always struck me that though we talk of loss, grief feels like an addition. Something is taken from you, but at the time, it feels like something added. Something weighty and hot and wide.
Through the times my arms are allowed to feel emptier of it, I know I will have to take my turn again. I have learnt not to despair in that. In my adult body, it feels newly right. It feels like a way to honour our humanity, our mortality, and I know I live more deeply and more lovingly for the knowledge of it. When life is lighter, it is often with the understanding that someone I love is taking their turn to grieve. When it's my turn, I can think of the light and free arms of others and be glad for them, and know that my heavy labour is not the only one. There is a peaceable balance to it, a companionship. So much in life is lonely, but grief doesn't need to be. You cannot experience it alone entirely - what you feel is shared by multitudes - and I find comfort in that.
As I grow, I can recognise its shape more and more in the people around me. It's like seeing something hand-shaped, it is that essential a noun. My human self thinks 'hand' and knows it, and understands it is linked to its own. I can press mine to its shape and though its size and form may differ, I will still feel a sense of fit, a recognition, and I think grief works the same way. I see yours and though it is not mine, I know something of it, enough of it, and I can be with you in that and that is something tender and miraculous.
It is so simple, really, and yet not simple at all. Something is gone, suddenly, devastatingly, and we fall into the gap it leaves, our universe's laws all broken, unreality no longer unreal, while all around us the world seems just the same, as if it didn't know a part of itself had pulled apart. How could we stay unchanged through that? How could we not be undone? When time itself becomes hard to grasp. When tenses knock against our teeth. He is? He was? That there should suddenly be a before and after, that we have always lived, drawing towards this. Was I? Will I be? I know it but I do not understand it. I expect I never will.
And in all this, we huddle together, each with our gaps, our boulders, our Russian dolls.
This is the beauty and the muddle and the pain of it, and humility cuts through it like a migraine because underneath it all, I know I still don't know grief as well as I will, one day.
For now, I stand. I water my sunflowers. I touch careful hands to those I love.
There is nothing else to do.