I just came across a few images on my computer that I saved a while ago when I read “The year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. I took a picture of two pages that resonated with me. Now that I read them again, I thought I should share them:
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing”. A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it”, rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of 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.”
(The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion, page 188-189)
I think Joan describes the process very accurately. The real challenge starts when we do not have to function in a social setting any more. After an unexpected and traumatic experience, lots of things have to happen, decisions have to be made, and the body functions. It distracts the mind. But then at some stage everything has been completed and all that is left is a void. I am not a poet, but I wrote down a few lines of how I felt shortly after Tobias had died.
I am an empty shell,
I waited for you,
Bearer of joy and new beginnings,
Saviour, bringing direction to life, purpose to the purpose-less.
But here I am – an empty shell.
And you are gone.
Now, without you, life is meaningless.