Archive for Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sedgwick: Grief overcome with friends

October 21, 2010

We are called upon in this life to endure tragic moments, heavy days when the sky seems ever so dark.

There are those among us who are now called upon to endure one of life’s tragic moments, to bear deep sorrow and to experience days when the sky seems dark and deep. To incorporate into their being the loss of one loved so very deeply, a son or daughter — this is a burden that simply cannot be born alone.

I was listening recently to a woman telling me the story of her son’s unexpected death. We were seated, the two of us alone, in a large room, with windows that descended from floor to ceiling. The sun was streaming along the slats of the open blinds, like a child at play.

We are both survivors — me of cancer, she of the loss of a child. Cancer seems easier somehow.

Cancer is not an ache that grips the heart and squeezes until it is difficult to breathe. Cancer and its treatment takes you to the very edge of life, dangles you, and then, if your treatment is successful, lets you come back again. You get a do-over.

Grief following the loss of one you love, especially a child, does not give you a second chance. Such a loss leaves you with a deep crevice in the very middle of your soul that groans with each memory, for your loss is a repeated refrain.

I remember the call about my nephew’s death, his fall from the side of a mountain, my walking around the room touching the furniture, saying to myself, “This is a chair. This is a lamp. This is the couch.” I went to the computer to write a tribute to be read at his memorial service. Two hours passed without notice. There were days I really couldn’t say what was real and what wasn’t. It was like sleep walking, except there was no sleep.

Joan Didion writes similarly in her book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” of the mind’s way of coping, splitting into fragments and coming back together again. All preconceived ideas that one has of life and death seemed shattered.

One day the pieces of the puzzle drift back together. Though one may never be entirely whole again, the garment of life is wearable. Grief never entirely leaves us. Like the tide, it recedes into the greater ocean of human experience to mingle with other waves that sweep over us — at times lapping at our feet, at other times rising up to knock us flat on our face, only to recede again.

With the ocean at our feet, its spray in our face, we walk on. We do not walk alone. It is the human condition that binds us to one another.

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