As I write this, I basically find myself wanting to say something to this effect: People die. It really hurts. Sometimes, it’s shitty for years and it’s not enough to plough through—you’ve got to really experience the damned thing.
This is not an inspiring article; there are no solutions at the end. There are many questions that surface throughout and there is a strong suggestion. My intention, in that suggestion, is to offer some hope.
Among the many lessons they don’t teach you at school, a lesson worth knowing, is death and how to handle it. It seems, I think, sort of morbid to most people to talk about the glaringly obvious reality that we all die and that it is a really painful experience for everyone—including the person who passes on.
Instead, we are dogged by literature and mythologies and commerce that speaks about avoiding and fearing death in various different ways, ranging from Lord Voldemort (a fictional antagonist character of J. K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series) to anti-aging creams. Very rarely, if ever, does someone sit you down as a child and prepare you for the inevitable demise of your parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and children. (On a slightly random note, it is interesting, isn’t it, how Lord Voldemort’s fear and the fear of Lord Voldemort are almost the same thing?)
No one tells you it may happen, because “it” is the unnnamed fear that we don’t wish to talk about. “It” is the “bad thing” we don’t want to mention. Lest by pure mention of “its” name, we invite it into our homes.
We are aware of the stages of grieving or the grief cycle: anger, denial, drinking, bargaining, depression (some sort of extremely low point possibly involving tears and possibly substance abuse) and acceptance.
No one prepares you for the archaeology of the affair. Many years after the event, you look at what’s causing that large gaping hole inside you—you find loss, the endless abyss and a bottomless pit of undefined substance—no one really has a vocabulary for this place.
I mean, really… what does it mean to miss someone?
In Non-Violent Communication, we talk about how our emotions are connected fundamentally with our needs. It merits the question, then, if our relationship with our lost loved one is really just the sum of our needs—all of which may be met elsewhere?
So, are people replaceable? Why is it that the pain exists deeply buried within us so many years after the loss has occured? How do some families survive their losses?
I think the first and most inspiring work I ever read about loss was by Ashley Davis, a licensed psychotherapist and grief counselor. Her work elaborated on the cryptic and almost unsettling line from The Crow—about how the people who love us ever leave us. The Harry Potter books (which I confess with no shame are somewhat of a personal Bible for me) also sort of indicate the same thing in moments and metaphors.
Davis suggests what seems almost obvious in retrospect. After all, we are living through a time where more and more people are conscious of the very intimate relationship between the subject and the object. The subjectivity of the former is transformed by the latter.
We are framed by everything we touch and see, smell and taste. We are transformed by every person we meet, every song we listen to and every story we hear or watch.
Davis points out that loss is almost like another stage in a relationship. Which means, to an extent, that the near obsession with returning to “normality” after the event is almost a redundant practice. We are fundamentally tranformed by our loss, our pain, our infinite humanness and tremendous vulnerability, because it reminds us that we can die.
We do, on some level, die too:
“Essentially grief is a tearing down and then a building back up – a death and a resurrection. The death of a loved one irrevocably alters your life; in effect, it destroys your life as you knew it. Hopefully, through the grieving process, you begin to rebuild your life. What often happens, however, is that people want to avoid the painful aspects of stage two; the breakdown is too terrifying. So they rush right ahead to the stage of Reconstruction, telling others – and themselves – that “Everything’s just fine, I’m okay, I’m adjusting just fine.” They attempt to skip to the end before they’ve gone through the middle.”
It doesn’t matter how long it has been since the loss. It also doesn’t matter that whether you’re rational or educated or well-read or a thinking person. The problem with grief is, I think, that you have to feel it and words are not enough. You may eat through the lack of comprehension, you may boycott your music and your words… you may walk out of exam halls and run out on relationships simply to state that this thing inside you, this incomprehensible thing, is so huge and so unbearable. And even that may not be enough.
It was the anniversary of my brother’s death a few weeks back and in some of my healing work around that date, I touched upon a need for family, followed immediately by a huge sense of distance. This isn’t new—it is something that’s been coming up for a while and I’m only now beginning to look at those deserts and oceans within me with an intention to “feel” more than to “understand” (though the Rational Voice of course is difficult to ignore).
I’m beginning to wonder if there is not a great deal of merit in the idea of transformation as a continual process rather than a one-time, traumatic thing. And if we are indeed shaped by our relationships, why should we not consider the processes that take place in us when we lose someone?
Loss transforms us.
Living with and through the loss is fundamentally a re-negotiation of the relationship you had with your loved one. Davis’ argument is contrary to the popular idea that one has to let go and move on. She in fact suggests that one does not need to (and argues also that one “should not“) move on and let go of the ties. I don’t really know what that means in terms of healing and letting go.
I’ll leave you with another thought from Davis’ excerpt in the hope that all the questions eventually lead to an answer:
“Your loved one is in your heart, in your soul, and wrapped intrinsically into who and what you are. You will spend the rest of your life remembering, internalizing, and renegotiating all that this loss means to you in this lifetime. Just because the person is dead, it doesn’t mean that your feelings for the relationship dies… Society’s common misconception is that grieving can be completed within a few months if not weeks, and that then life resumes. But grief’s reality is that life is forever changed, you are forever changed…”
Manasi Saxena is a student of history and of life, who has recently stood at the very edge of a cliff and realised there is nothing more awesome than being vulnerable, nothing more brave than accepting it and nothing more valuable than sharing, growing, receiving and being authentic. She loves puppies, stories about long journeys, people, traveling, art, cooking, warm cuddly hugs and also music. Visit her blog or band, Black Crayon. [email protected],
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Assistant Ed: Lacy Ramunno/Ed: Kate Bartolotta