The words for grief

Hello you. This is Adib and some time back, you subscribed to Dispatches, a monthly letter that I write about our shared humanity and life in cities. It’s a new-ish format that I introduced a month ago and I appreciate you being here. However, if you already immediately regret that decision, you can unsubscribe here.

○ ○ ○ ○ ○


“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach,” wrote Joan Didion.

If I had read these words last year, it wouldn’t have made much sense. Just like all the other words written by those who had to live with the loss of their loved ones. In fact, in a conversation with a friend who himself is carrying the weight of grief, we talked about how most of us simply do not have the language for it. Many of us struggle to find the right words to express it and to comfort it, and yet our encounter with grief is inevitable.

Many weeks ago, I wrote about how I’ve struggled to describe how I’m feeling to others. And so in my search of trying to put words to this human experience, I have been reading the words of others. Reading these words made me feel connected to a universal truth of our shared humanity: that of loss, that of grief, and that of trying to find a way forward. 
 

○ ○ ○ ○ ○
 

“Here is what I have learned about Grief, though.

I have learned that Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule.

Grief does not obey your plans, or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love.

The only way that I can “handle” Grief, then, is the same way that I “handle” Love — by not “handling” it. By bowing down before its power, in complete humility.

When Grief comes to visit me, it’s like being visited by a tsunami. I am given just enough warning to say, “Oh my god, this is happening RIGHT NOW,” and then I drop to the floor on my knees and let it rock me. How do you survive the tsunami of Grief? By being willing to experience it, without resistance.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, IG post on Rayya


○ ○ ○ ○ ○

“Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.”

– Joan Didion, Year of Magical Thinking


○ ○ ○ ○ ○

“The pain of the grief, that’s also a gift,” he said. “When you stop grieving is when you start losing contact with the person. But as long as you can grieve for her, then she will always feel very close. And so for me, actually, I welcome it. … Because then I feel much closer to her.” 

Eddie Chang at Storycorps


○ ○ ○ ○ ○

“Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”

– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed


○ ○ ○ ○ ○

“That is what I’ve felt like all of these months, like I am groping about in the darkness, waking up in a world I hadn’t expected to occupy. But there is no way through it except through it.”

– Nora McInerny, No Happy Endings: A Memoir


○ ○ ○ ○ ○



On the topic of words, about a week ago, I wrote a post titled “100 days. 7 years.” in commemoration of a 100 days of Mizah’s passing which coincided with what was to be our 7th wedding anniversary. I offered a glimpse into life in that 100 days which has evolved from not being able to do nothing, to being able to do some things, and eventually a few new things. In very general terms, I am ‘better’ and have a lot to be grateful for but once again, these words are inadequate to explain how I am feeling now. But thanks to the community of grieving people out there who have had better success at it, enter the “Ball in the Box” analogy of grief: 

 

Imagine a box. There is a ball in it, and a “pain” button.

In the beginning, the ball is huge and it just keeps hitting the pain button. There is no way to control it and sometimes, it gets stuck on the button to release relentless pain.

Over time, the ball gets smaller. It hits the button less and less but when it does, it hurts just as bad. However, the ball does randomly hit that button when you least expect it, and there you are in pain again. 

For most people, the ball never really goes away. It might hit less and less, and one would have more time to recover between hits. But sometimes, the ball may unexpectedly increase in size for a while before shrinking back. And that’s just the way life is from now on.

Paraphrased & adapted from @Lauren Herschel on Twitter; first discovered via a FB post that was shared with me


Right now, as I type these words, the ball has been gradually shrinking. I am glad that I have the words of others who have had to go through this to help me along the past months and also what is to come. I am also very thankful for you for reading these words of mine. The grief that I write about is mine, but I’ve had many of you reach out to tell me that you feel it too. Thank you.