C.S. Lewis wrote that dealing with grief was like adjusting to life with one leg amputated. He said our whole way of life changes, and that while we may get around pretty well, we will probably walk with a limp and have recurrent pain for the rest of our life. After his wife died, Lewis didn’t think he would ever walk smoothly again.
The death of a loved one does not simply remove them from our life, as if their arrival and departure equal out. This is because we have changed because of them. They have become part of us, and part of us no longer functions in their absence.
A few years ago, a rockfall radically changed Happy Isles in Yosemite. If you haven’t been to Yosemite, Happy Isles might sound like an amusement area for children with cotton candy, hot dogs, and balloons. In reality, this is where the wild Merced River comes cascading down the steep canyon from the mountains and enters the valley. Three small islands sit in the middle of the river, and the area was named “happy” because of the cascading sounds of the water.
The rockfall was not ordinary. Two blocks of granite, each 200 feet long and 25 feet thick, broke off near the top of Glacier Point and fell 1800 feet, generating a wind of 174 mph that blasted a thousand trees down. When the slabs hit the ground, they pulverized and buried a section of the pine forest, as well as a trail I loved, under a pile of granite rubble. The force of the impact generated a 2.1 earthquake.
Before the rocks fell, Happy Isles was a deeply shaded glen. I’d stop in if I was hiking in the area, walk over a small bridge unto the islands, eat lunch in the cool shade, and listen to the sounds of the water dancing around me. Without the trees, the islands are now open, airy to the sky, and exposed to the sun.
It had been Evelyn’s favorite spot in the valley, but the place that she loved is gone. It is beautiful again, but in a different way, and I cannot be there without thinking of her absence or the absence of the beautiful glen that is no more.
This reminds me of the Doctor Who episode where a human (Oswin Oswald) has been captured by the Daleks on their asylum world. She thinks she has been able to fend them off for a year, rather than be assimilated, but unknown to her, most of her has been physically converted into a machine. Through force of will, she has been able to keep her mind, spunk, and humor going.
Part of me stopped working when Evelyn died, and the journey through grief has changed me. I am more open, and my heart feels more compassion for others, but I see the world through hard eyes. Although I love again, it’s with a different heart, one that is still bruised.
Sometimes I wonder how much of my old self has survived.
This post first appeared in The Grief Dialogues.