Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post a reflection on grief as I continue to explore its landscape and listen to you. In the sharing of our stories with each other, we find encouragement and build a community of support.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Thereness 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, is the one who died 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 I know dozens of other people in similar circumstances. Nor does it matter that I used to live next door to 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 where she grew up. Her there was no longer there because the place that once housed her memories was now a vacant lot.

When you’re grieving, there’s only one there, if you have the courage to face it. Otherwise you live in the nethersphere between here and there, which means that you exist nowhere.

While Burke’s friend wonders how to reach the one who died, Burke is wondering how to reach her friend, because it doesn’t seem like she’s all there. Meaning here. Her friend concludes that there is more pain than beauty in the world. I’m not surprised she would feel this way. Many of us believe there is just barely enough beauty to balance the pain of grief. Some of us would say there’s a lot more. On some days, I think that’s pushing it.

This is where my friend comes in. His wife, also a friend of mine, died fourteen 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 late-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, wise, compassionate and creative 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, and now you doubt life’s goodness even more.

In grief, it’s hard to exist anywhere but there.

He keeps seeing the places in their home where she once sat, ate meals, and slept beside him, and I worry about him there. His there is not their there. Is the way to reach him to go directly into his grief and speak to him there, or do I go around the circumference of his life, talk about other things, and reach him on the other side? Neither, I think. And both.

When grief comes, it does not exist in one spot, so going around or through doesn’t make any difference. Grief fills our entire world. There is no separate point to reach. While listening to someone share their grief is enough to put me in the same orbit, we are still planets unto ourselves, moving in cosmic ellipses to each other. Sometimes we spin close, but at other times we drift far apart, separated by the vacuum of space.

If we cannot reach those who grieve, and they never let go of the there that is no more, then they cease to exist here. They die as well, and we lose more good and loving friends.