wish you were here

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.
We wonder if anyone else will die.  If everyone else will die.
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.

14 thoughts on “wish you were here

  1. Thank you for sharing this, the beginning could have come directly from my thoughts of the last two weeks and the pain I’m feeling from losing my dad. Thank you for making me not feel so alone anymore.

    • I’m so so glad . . . I felt as though I was being a little forward by sending you the link, but after our exchange following my friend’s death in August, I just knew you would relate. You are a strong, strong woman, my friend.

  2. I don’t know how I missed this earlier this week. So powerfully, beautifully put. You are right, we are experiencing similar feelings right now. Thank you for sharing yours so openly. It’s funny, I’m actually thinking about writing my next book about a little girl that lives across the street from a cemetery and shares many of the same feelings you just wrote. I too began feeling this way as a child. It’s like life can never fully be trusted because we never know when it is going to end or who might disappear. Thanks again. Your writing reaches a very true space inside me.

      • Last time, I was invited to join a group of writers in my “area,” but that area was pretty HUGE and I was never able to make it to any of the meetings. And then I completely failed at my attempt at actually finishing the novel within the month. But I really want to do it this time. I’m sure there’s a way we can find each other on there, right?

      • What’s your username? I think I figured out how to add you as a “writing buddy.” Seeing other people’s word counts rise helps keep me going 😉

      • Awesome! I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Mine is: ejlavelle. And, I have to be honest, my current word count is not accurate — I’m using the month to attempt to finish something I had already started. (But on one of the forums yesterday, I was relieved to see that I’m not considered a “cheater.” Ha!)

      • Just added you as a buddy! And, definitely not cheating– last year I began with a completed prologue. To me, the point is just really focusing on writing for a month, no matter where you start 🙂

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