Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Circumference of Grief

Michelle Burke’s poem “Diameter” raises a bunch of “what ifs.” In the poem, she flies across the country to be with a friend who is grieving, a friend who is wondering if there is a there in the afterlife, and if so, if the one who died is waiting for her there.

For no particular reason, I think of a friend who lost his wife. Well, there is a reason, but it doesn’t matter here because, although I have someone specific in mind, I also know dozens of other people in similar circumstances. Nor does it matter that I used to live in Oakland where Gertrude Stein quipped about whether there was a there there, or not. There is. I saw it. Although it’s a different there than the there that Stein meant when she visited the place in Oakland where she grew up and saw that her house was gone. 

There was no longer her there there because the place that once housed her memories was a vacant lot.
While Burke’s friend is wondering how to reach the one who died, Burke is wondering how to reach her friend, because she doesn’t seem like she’s all there. Her friend concludes that there is more pain than beauty in the world. In the midst of her grief, I’m not surprised that she would feel this way. Many of us, I think, believe that there is just barely enough beauty to balance the pain. Some of us would even say there’s a lot more. I think that’s pushing it.

This is where my friend comes in. His wife, who was also a friend, died ten years ago. Since then, he does not seem to be all there. He’s stuck. He had waited a long time to find her, and they wed when he was in his mid-30s. Nine years later she died of a brain tumor, after they had struggled with her cancer for most of their married life. He has a right to be bitter, and I’m not surprised that he hasn’t recovered from her death.

When you wait that long to find the right person, and that really good and wise and loving person is ripped away, not only out of your life but out of the world, well, you would doubt most everything good, too. You may have doubted life’s goodness before because it took so long to find the one you loved. Then this wonderful person was taken away way before her time. Now you doubt life’s goodness even more.

He keeps seeing the places in their house where she once sat, ate meals with him, slept, and I worry about him there. Is the way to reach him to go directly through grief and speak to him of this, or do I go around the circumference, talking about other things, and thereby reach him on the other side? Neither, I think. And both.

Grief does not exist in one spot on the other side, so around or through doesn’t make any difference. Grief fills the inside of us. There is no separate point to reach. It is everywhere. Even listening to someone share their grief is not enough to put us in the same orbit. 

We are like planets unto ourselves, moving in ellipses to each other.


As long as he lives, she does not completely die, because he keeps her alive by talking about her to others, and showing her paintings to friends, paintings full of her spirit, insights, and humor. But if I cannot reach him, and he never lets go and resumes living, then he is no longer there. He dies along with her. And I lose another good and loving friend.

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