Donna died August 7, 2011. At 5:15 PM the doors of death opened and she stepped through. In my mind I saw her turn and look at me. I saw no sadness or fear in her eyes. Perhaps what I saw was relief. The corners of her mouth turned up in a small smile. She was no longer gaunt and broken.
Her hand reached though the doorway and held mine ever so softly as we’ve done a million times before. Our hands always perfectly fit together. The warmth of the touch remained as Donna let go and walked into that other perspective.
I looked at where Donna’s hand touched mine and find streaks of bright yellow pollen. Those are the seeds of my future. Let’s call this pollen grief or mourning. It has geminated within me beginning on the day she was diagnosed with Stage IV Cancer. It is vine like and clings to all the memories that flash before me at random times. That is grief.
Grief is such a small word yet powerful as a Tsunami in meaning and emotion. We all grieve differently yet, we share a common sense that grief can and will drown us. You hear the word grief and you know. You just know, whether you’ve felt it or not. You know.
Greek mythology spoke of The Algea who were spirits of pain and suffering both of the mind and body, goddesses of grief, sorrow, and distress. The The Algea were related to Penthos the spirit of grief, lamentation, and mourning. So long ago and so much to the core of our human condition of what we see, feel, and know when a loved one dies. This has not changed. It will not change. It is what it means to be human, to love, to mourn the loss of a loved one. Some have said mourning the loss of a loved one is the purest expression of love.
Listening to a podcast Edward St. Aubyn mentioned that Freud said love and work keeps us sane. I was struck because there is no work per se for me and love, well love is gone other than memories. I wanted to know more. To understand more. I found a piece in the NYT from October 2011 by Gordon Marino titled, Freud as Philosopher. In that piece he notes "Freud more than once implied that what is fundamental to happiness is the ability to love and work; that is, to be able to invest in something other than yourself.”
Has my grief, my loss, my mourning precluded me from investing in something other than myself? Has my refusal to embrace closure on Donna’s death thrust me into a narcissistic and self-centered person? When all else fails turn to a professional. I posed this question to a friend who is a Freudian psychotherapist. With friends like this who needs therapy.
My friend agreed with the idea that grief is changing. We are seeing it differently today and closure is not a thing. Closure is change not an end. Closure is a myth. Closure is indifference. Closure is denial said pretty. Closure is not how we look at the tragedy of life to discover new knowledge, and understand ourselves.
I attacked my grief. Explored it and myself. In the course of this exercise I discovered Donna again and more. As my friend noted ‘there needs to be something outside of ourselves that gives us meaning. Work or Love is just and easy place holder. …what gives one meaning is subjective and not objective.’
Donna stepped through deaths doorway. I was left behind to find my way. I did not surrender to Penthos even in the blinding darkness of loss and mourning that enveloped me. I see this period immediately following her death as if I was thrown into a dark windowless warehouse littered with the debris of memories. The memories tripped and bruised me. I did not shy from my blind journey. I continued to look harder and more deliberately at my memories. These memories did not tear at my soul or heart. In someway I found peace and comfort. I alighted on a place where grief changed its meaning and me.
I was left behind. Donna went forward. She was gone and only memories remained. Grief scented memories. Between Donna and my memories is grief. Grief is a limbo, the edge of hell, the temporary state of being with Penthos. Closure is what many believe is the way out. I see it differently.
Grief and its abject pain is a glow-stick that we can snap to light the dark warehouse we’ve been thrust into stumbling over the memories we forgot or ignore. That glow-stick illuminates darkness, unveils shadows, and finds love where memories damage us. As I searched and uncovered the memories the more I learned and discovered about me, Donna, and us. The more far ranging my search though the warehouse of memories the greater my understanding. My grief was a light not darkness.
In the end my grief remains. Grief haunts me, chases me, and pushes me to the edge of pain. I did not fall over the edge. Grief is a tool to discover what is hidden.