I have an old friend who keeps coming back. Her name is Grief.
She’s been traveling a bit lately, and I haven’t missed her. But last night, while she was visiting someone else, she touched base with me again. The three of us had an unintentional conversation at a party, which is not a nice place for anyone to demand attention. (Grief gets around a lot, and she frankly doesn’t care when or where you interact with her. Only that you do.) She must not and cannot be ignored forever.
I have found that when she comes back, I must engage her in conversation, in contemplation, in tears, and in silence. I must acknowledge her in the middle of the night, for weeks, if necessary. I must think of her and feel her in the pit of my stomach during so many surprising daily occurrences–the smell of cookies, a book, a laugh, an expression, a necklace. A few dozen times a day, I’ve made space for her. She keeps showing up, clapping her hands. Demanding my audience.
Grief is not pleasant, but she is necessary. And she has such an exquisite memory! She can recall moments, both good and bad, with alarming clarity. She will help you recognize failings you never realized you had and virtues you never knew someone else had. She has the ability to stir in you so many unsatisfied longings–even ones you’ve worked hard to discard over the years. She’s not ashamed to pound them against your temples and compel you to consider questions that can never be answered:
Could you have done more, been more, loved more, forgiven more, enjoyed more?
This is why I don’t like her.
I can’t answer those questions with any degree of satisfaction. I can’t win the argument. None of us can totally make peace with the loss of opportunity because we are all flawed humans, and certainly, we could have done more. This is the essence of human existence and logic. We live for more of everything! No wonder we languish for the end of it. We are forever inexplicably discontented.
To handle Grief well, I must answer her questions. And the right answer is always: I did the best I could with the opportunities I realized at the time. Would I have done more, if I had known how soon the end would come?
Of course. That’s life. But to be omniscient would mean that I’m not human.
And we are so very human, aren’t we? That’s the fright of it.
And even thought she means well, Grief doesn’t want us to live for today. She wants us to live in the past because that gives value and importance to the people and things that have stolen her heart. Living for today–and heaven forbid, for tomorrow!–means Grief has lost a bit of her grip. Living today means you’re accepting your humanity and the mortality of whoever or whatever you’ve lost.
This morning when I went through my mail, a stack of pictures fell out of an envelope. I looked through a couple dozen pictures, sent by my mom’s friend, of Mom and my two grandmothers. They are the three women who have loved me the most and to whom I owe my personality and my interests. I miss them all tremendously.
There they were on my kitchen table, smiling up from glossy prints, happy to be alive and together. I looked through the pictures twice before Grief punched me in the gut.
(She can’t help it.)
So I embraced her, and I embraced the memories. And I hung a picture on the fridge.