This I know.

Grief is hard.

It hurts, it overwhelms, it suffocates.

From the moment it appears, it seeks to settle in. A nebulous entity at first, unformed, unknown, unarmed. That slowly begins to feed on us, our mind and memories, our love, loss and longing. Then growing at its own pace, on its own momentum, gaining definition, sharpness, power. We acknowledge it, give it its due, the space in our head and heart. It may try to take control, swamp us, and we may need to wrestle with it a bit, rein it in, and we may succeed. But there are times when it refuses to let us master it. It rises in waves, flooding us through, drenching us in misery, and we are left bewildered by its enormity. Sometimes it catches us suddenly by the throat, jerking us off our keel. Or it just hangs within us, weighing us down with its burden of sorrow. We may weep, mope, sigh, withdraw, get angry, try to bottle it in and wear a brave face over it, deny it, feign indifference, whatever. But it stays lodged within, a prerequisite to healing from the affliction of loss.

And yet there is no precise formula to it. They tell us of the stages that it needs to go through, how it mutates from shock to denial and anger and sadness and, perhaps, depression, and then finally through to acceptance, but there is no clear knowledge as to how long the process or any of its stages will take and how we will cope through. When and how we can put it behind us, reach the other side of it, be done with it, be light and dry again. Or, whether it ever goes away entirely.

It could, unknown to us, linger on, settling in a corner of our being, lying there dormant, happy to let us get on with our lives. But prodded into sudden stinging wakefulness when we least suspect, exposing our vulnerability, our fragility all over again. Perhaps, when an oft heard and favoured song plays from someone else’s playlist, and we smile at first at the serendipity of it.  We listen to the words and music again, they go straight through to the core of our heart now beating a tad heavier, rejuvenating fading memories all over again. Or a whiff of a known fragrance puckers up the nostrils and the embrace of a beloved is reincarnated, our arms wanting to reach out and curl in the air, as if that presence has returned. Or the tongue savours a morsel of once familiar, shared food, and there is a resurgent longing for the contentment that was then. The way it was then, those that were still with us then, the way we were then. With that special togetherness. Those shared confidences. Golden sunsets maybe, or pristine sunrises. The texture of the time that was. The fullness that our heart once knew. A mother’s soft lap. A father’s broad shoulders. A sister’s gleeful giggle. A lover’s tingling touch. A friend’s whispered secret. Of the travels and journeys of life and the landscapes of it that passed by then. All that had slipped through the portals of forgotten time, now hurtling back loud and clear in front of our searching, misty eyes. Reawakened senses to the reawakened memories of what once was.

Then it rises like a phantom and does its quiet mournful dance again. Wringing our hurting insides again, squeezing out residues of sadness that we believed we had cleansed away, making our breath gather quick in our throat, tightening it with its vice like grip, till we shudder and see it again, shake our head again at our own folly of forgetfulness, and acquiesce to its right to live on. It warns us that the healing was a myth, at best a facade, that this is the real thing, the ache of missing. That it will live on as long as there is breath in us, and the mind can retrieve the past at will.

Yet mercifully, it does not obliterate the present, no, nor do our feet falter on the treadmill of life to be lived yet. It doesn’t embarrass us as we smile and nod through surrounding conversations, move from this to that, these to those to others. It lets us raise our head from our pillow in the morning in healthy anticipation of all that the day may bring, go through our routines, our duties, our work, our enjoyments, returning to those that still gather lovingly and supportively around us. It rarely disrupts all or any of that. No, it isn’t that demanding, nor exacting. It’s like a shadow that follows us around, hiding when the sunshine and warmth of fulfillment holds our face aloft to the glowing sun. Stretching out as the darkness descends again, of loneliness perhaps, of half-fulfilled dreams, of promised but betrayed togetherness. We shed quiet tears into our pillow, sorry for that loss, sorrier for ourself, and it watches us, watches our ache, it takes its due and then lets go, granting us relief. However temporary. It returns to its corner, letting us be.  

The grief reminds us of our essence of being human, of having loved, nurtured, cherished other humans. Of having been loved, nurtured, cherished, wanted. Of how a face lit up when it saw ours. Or how a voice sounded happy when it spoke to us. Or a hand that held ours, steadying us through the rough. How the sorrow of parting gave way to the promised joy of meeting again, and again. Until the parting became final, cemented with loss. And loss is inevitable: we are born, we will die, ditto for all others, including those we attach ourselves to, those through whom we reference our living.

But I know this too. That the healing is equally inevitable. We are born to live, to breathe, be. We are blessed with resilience, that is the forte of our species. We hunger to be happy again, our days to be full and nights peaceful again, to love and be loved again, to argue, to squabble, to battle and win and lose again, to taste and relish more, travel afresh, talk, chat again, listen too, watch and show, feel and think, be excited, sleep unburdened. We yearn for all of that again. We rise and shuffle through the mystifying darkness of loss, our eyes straining to see better, relocate our bearings, gather ourselves, look outward, reach out and gratefully grab that hand that’s waiting to guide us through to the light of life again. That hand may be our own, our love of our own self, our own impatience to be free of the shadows. I’ve held mine several times these past years. I am ready and willing to hold others’ too.

I wear my grief unabashedly. The unconditional, unquestioning love that sealed me to those that peopled my life so far, the readiness to commit to friends, family, the hurt of others that tore my heart, the joy in their joys, that was all mine to treasure, to rejoice in, why hide it? No, I don’t flaunt it, it is mine to know and feel. Mine to allow or subdue. Yet every time I am reacquainted with it afresh, I stutter, stumble, then steady myself again. I am now an old hand at it. 

For this I know. What once was is carried through to what is and will be. It will colour our ongoing story, making it richer, finer, subtler. It will be woven into the warp and weft of the entire human experience, merging with all that was already there, wriggling to make space for more, the new, the changing, the yet to be born. It is merely a part of the growing whole.

And so, I tell myself: let not my grief crowd my horizon, shadow my tomorrows. Let me wear it lightly, know that while the loss may be permanent, it need not define the life I live. I carry my memories of those that passed and feel enriched by all I’ve known and felt. I find joy in them too, and I let that joy live on.

Live on, as well as we can. That’s all we can do, isn’t it? But that’s all that we need.