When grief hits it will chip away at you like a disease until it devours you whole.
About two years ago a good friend and my father died suddenly a few months within each other. Teaching me quite abruptly and at a relatively young and naïve age, that nothing lasts forever. I was left gasping for breath completely and utterly unable to comprehend what happened and with no chance to say “goodbye” to either man.
Even now, I never really speak about either of them, but not because I don’t care or that I have forgotten. On some days, when I’m alone, or surrounded by people; maybe in my apartment, or on the tube, my mind wanders to them. And of course I am overcome with a certain kind of sadness but not one that incapacitates, no, it is rather one of fondness, for they lived and their lives were intertwined with mine, and that makes me happy. And I think that is the best way to deal with grief. It is not a burden for us to carry but a tool to make us think about our lives on a deeper level.
But it wasn’t always like that. Grief affects us all in different ways. I spent so many days and nights reading about the “seven stages of grief”, trying to psychoanalyse my own behaviour and trying to wish away the days until “it was all over”. I cried, of course. For days, for months… I stared into an abyss within myself and wondered what could ever fill it. I took off to the other side of the world, did anything to run away from the emptiness grief brought with it. But I have come to realise that grief is not about “getting over it.” Everyone copes in different ways, but there are some things that remain the same…
First you’ll forget their voice. You won’t realise you’ve forgotten their voice though because they live curled up in a crevice of your mind. But one day you’ll think about a funny joke they told you, or you’ll be about to reach for a cigarette and be reminded of all the times they told you not to. Then you’ll try to remember how they said it and you won’t be able to capture their essence. You’ll grasp at the way they used to say a particular word or phrase. Or the way they said your pet name. But one day you will forget completely. Their intonation will disappear and get swallowed up by the sky.
The last time I saw James was New Years Eve two years ago. We had dim sum to ring in the New Year and I told him I had never had a New Years kiss. As we stood on the escalator down to the tube platform he did nothing but silently stare at my lips, mesmerized. “Why are you looking at me like that?” “There’s only one reason I would ever look at you like this.” As we went to jump onto our trains he grabbed me and kissed me, our first, and only, kiss. The kind of kiss that takes your breath away. “I know I’m a few hours early but Happy New Year.” And then as quickly as it had happened, we ran onto our opposite platforms to our opposite sides of London. I remember the jacket he wore, the pocket square and the ring on his left pinky finger. I don’t replay that moment every time I take that tube anymore. But I have forgotten the intonation when he said that.
New Year kisses are kind of sacred to me now. Only to be shared with those I am willing to bare my soul to. James set precedence. Those tiny things, like a fond kiss between friends, that shouldn’t bear any significance or stand out in memory can, and should, when it evokes the memory of someone; dead or alive. People leave impressions and I like that those can have impacts on our daily lives.
One day you will begin to forget their face. This is surely the saddest of all. Sure there are photos but remembering someone’s face is different to looking at a photograph. Those photos begin to look like someone else. Those moles look different and those wrinkles don’t look like they belong to him. When you close your eyes there will soon start to be a fuzzy little glow around their face as you recall them talking to you. You will start to try to single out a moment in time to remember them by and forget how they looked when they made you toast or read the evening paper.
You’ll always remember the little nuances of their personality. The way they hated the phrase “how are you” or the snarl they gave you when you’d done something wrong. You will always remember the look in their face when you had your last argument. If you’re lucky you’ll remember the last smile you shared. But you will forget a lot. You will start to sieve out the banal, everyday details in search of a few salient pieces of memory to focus on when time comes to recall them. But I urge you to hold onto those boring pieces of everyday. The way the edges of their mouth curled when they got angry but didn’t want to say, or the way they blew their nose with a handkerchief.
One day you’ll wake up and they won’t be the first thing you think of. You might not think that possible, but the day will come when they will be the second, or the third. Some days you won’t remember them at all. Some days you’ll want to do nothing but bask in their memories and let those recollections flood in. Enjoy those days, do not try to block out memories because once they are gone they are gone, believe me.
I don’t believe in cliches like ‘it will all be OK in the end’, and I don’t believe that time heals all wounds. Some things you just don’t get “over”. But I don’t think that the end goal should be “to get over” or “to forget”. But then I don’t believe in time being so linear a concept. We are not all working our way up to one final moment where everything makes sense, we are constantly evolving in a way that every moment is the end, and also the beginning. I am not happy that some people are dead, or gone. But I am happy. And I think that is what counts.
I think committing those who have died to raw memory is of the utmost importance to us. To come back and remember the good, and the bad, of their lives and personalities make us more human. In a way it helps us remember those in our lives already; the good and the bad of them and their importance and significance to our everyday lives.
I think the ultimate goal for grief is celebration. It shouldn’t shackle you. It should set you free.