I never understood grief at death.
Well, that’s not totally accurate.
When the spouse or the child or the best friend in regular contact dies, I understood the gaping hole it leaves in a life. I understood the sudden crashing down and the time it takes to rebuild that.
For the person who is atheist/agnostic/believes in “this life is all we have” I understood the pain of the thought that the dead are gone eternally, wiped from earth as if they had never existed.
When there has been a strain in the relationship, anger, neglect, whatever, I understood the self-recrimination, the agonized loop of “if only I could go back and set it right” that can never be.
I understood even the sort of irony that smashes into the solar plexus: the father who dies days before his child is born; the scientist who dies weeks before his research discovers the cure for cancer.
But, none of those things being true for me, I didn’t understand my own sadness. I won’t even dignify it by the name of grief; I am not sure that a tear or two at Mozart’s Requiem, or at remembering from time to time the natural grace that made him a natural at every sport, or a half a dozen other little things, is really of a scale to qualify.
We had not been in contact for years, so no hole was left. True, that would have been a source of serious regret had we not found each other again two or three weeks before his death, with a joy and a triumph of certainty that we always would. (This is, after all, someone who signed my senior yearbook with his full name, birthday, and social security number so that, as he said, “You will always be able to find me.” Ah, the epic romanticism of teenagers.) For that matter I still believe we will meet again.
So, then, why sadness? It was so puzzling. And I wondered, what does that say about me, that I cannot understand so simple a thing?
A friend of mine suggested that “grief, like happiness, is a function of intensity, not time.” This was comforting, in that it validated my right to my own feelings, but still felt too simple…
I think I understand it now.
When someone vanishes completely from the surface of the earth – pouf! – you are left loving a void in the universe. You might as well pick the blackest spot in space, a hole between stars, and love it. It is preposterous. The mind rebels.
I see him in his unknown grave, because my mind will not let him be nowhere. Or I see him still alive, because I wish to speak to him, but I know he exists only in my mind, in a vast orb of space and time where I can never reach him. Will never reach him so long as I live, and when I think of it, life seems long indeed.
I understand now the urge to believe in immediate ascension to heaven. Or reincarnation. Or anything that isn’t – pouf!
I love a void in the universe. Is that not cause for grief? I think it is.