Grief is one of the most powerful emotions we can ever experience. In our society, grief is neat and tidy. It is compartmentalized and orderly. When someone dies, we call the phone tree of relatives, we call the funeral director, we pick a box, we call the church, we call the caterer, we call the local hotel and check on availability. Within two or three days, our beloved is in the ground and we go back to work. Co-workers smile meekly and offer weak condolences. We “get back to living”. But, we are dead inside. Some part of us died and got buried too. There is this sucking chest wound that leaves us gasping. Our reality it permanently distorted and we are standing in quicksand. Unless the person who has died has a large circle of friends or family, we can be completely alone in our despair. So often we conceal our grief because it makes people uncomfortable. Grief is shunned.
I was recently given a copy of a eulogy written by Pat Conroy for his beloved friend Doug Marlette. These two men are famous, respected writers, but among their greatest achievements and blessings is their friendship. Now these two men were husbands and fathers, but I think God might identify their friendship as one of the great achievement of their lives. The willingness for Mr. Conroy to disclose the depth of his affection for this other man is a gift to anyone who stands witness. So few of us have the blessing of being connected to another person.
I read this eulogy and wept.
The vacuum left behind is crushing when someone we love leaves this earth. Who or what could ever fill such a loss? The delicate balance of our lives is permanently lost. The seesaw is down. The keel is lost. The scales are tipped. Our compass needle spins. There is no way to reconcile this. Amputees and people with spinal cord injuries describe a phantom sensation as if their lost limb still exists. The mind has similar phantom pains when we lose someone we love so dearly. The indelible imprint of their soul echoes in our hearts, but they cannot be touched, or smelled, or heard or beheld. We lose the simplest of things: their sigh, the way they hum when they chew, their furrowed brow, the smirk, their sneezes, the way their nostrils flare when they are being wicked, the way they talk with their hands, their snoring.
I have buried my grandmothers. I have lost a few friends from high school. I have stood sentry in the ICU during my training as people left this world. I have had to discuss with patient’s their health and the possibility of facing their own death. I have buried a few and even gone to a few funerals. I have listened to patients share their own grief and loss. But to this day, I personally have not suffered the kind of loss that shakes my foundation. My parents are both still living. My husband is my longest connection on this planet outside of my family. One of my sisters narrowly escaped death 6 years ago and that time is not open discussed. My best friend, Traci is my most beloved girlfriend. I know that if any of them precede me in death, I will write the eulogy. I will cry until I am empty. I am sure I will make people uncomfortable. I will likely pray for emptiness. I will not be quiet or stoic. I will tell stories. I will wear my grief for all to see, because I will have had half of myself amputated. I think most of that grief will come from having missed the opportunity to tell these people how I actually love and adore them. Once they are gone from this world, I will just be talking to myself. And therein lies the origin of grief.