This is what I know of grief.
It’s not the death itself that we mourn, but what that death takes from us, and the absence it leaves behind.
There’s a word for this, and it’s a word that means something more tangible than grief. This is palpable. This is ache. And it’s an ache that roots itself deep in the abdomen, sometimes rising up to fill that cavity in the chest, sometimes creeping into the blueness of our veins.
They are the ones who are gone, and we are the ones who are missing. And it’s the missing that doesn’t seem to get easier. It’s the missing that, I’ve learned, hurts us all the same. We panic, terrified that our brains might stop remembering. We cry suddenly, explosively, and almost inexplicably, and turn around because we think someone, the one, is there. We tire of people telling us to “think of the good times,” because, right now, the good times still remind us of what’s gone.
And we’re just supposed to keep going. We’re just supposed to keep living on the edge of this hole, hoping we don’t fall in.
I have always found comfort in the permanence of cemeteries. Perhaps it helps me temper the impermanence of life. It happened when I was young, after a death I wasn’t expecting. In a cemetery, I can touch my fingers to the face of something physical, and trace the letters of a name. My palms press themselves against the grass that has not yet re-rooted itself, the earth that is still soft. (Though, I suppose the soil in Florida is always soft and sunken-in. I remember a winter burial in Massachusetts on the coldest day, and the jack-hammering it must have taken to break into that frozen ground.)
It’s quiet, but not silent. Trucks rumble on a distant highway. The dried leaves of a Florida Maple curl and fall. Now and then, the birds forget themselves and go shrieking into the sky. But the quiet is enough to let us visit without words. For once, we don’t need to fill up the space with sound.
At a nearby grave, two men, perhaps a father and a son, replace the dead daisies with new fall flowers. And I wonder, What have you lost? I turn from them and to the acres and acres of tiny monuments and shrines, and see our pain, our love, in the landscape. Maybe this is what makes us human.
And maybe there’s something to remember about this grief, this ache: it wouldn’t hurt so much if we didn’t love so much. The hurt is how we know we’re still alive enough to love. And we cannot sacrifice the love to protect us from the loss.
Good grief, I say.