To say that to grieve and to have lost is a positive thing seems on the surface to be something insensitive and illogical. Even the words “loss” and “grief” conjure up images of unbelievable pain and sorrow, and, believe me, I cannot argue with such correlations. However, in every loss there is something beautiful, and even loss does not have the word “forever” stamped on it.
I know as well as anyone, if not better than most, that the road of healing after losing a loved one to the cold hands of death is a path that presents hardships no one can imagine. Each person’s journey through grief brings them to different obstacles; grief is an intensely personal experience, and no one can lump a group of people together and tell them a proper way to grieve because everyone has a different experience. On top of that, we all have our unique ways of dealing with hardships, and it can be difficult at times to even find a common denominator. Some people internalize everything, some people go into denial, some people outwardly fall apart, and some do all of these things at the same time. There’s no real way to predict or neatly describe what a person’s experience is, was, or is going to be.
There is a common thread, though, and it concerns both the mourners and the one being mourned–those whom we love will live on regardless of their presence on this little earth. I’m not talking about Heaven or the after-life, even though I believe in those things. What am I talking about, then?
Whenever you meet someone, whether it be the day you’re born or at the end of your life, you start to form a bond with them. If you’re lucky–really lucky–this bond becomes a true link between two souls, a common line of communication that we try to assign mortal words like “love” or “friendship.” The truth is, a bond with someone is more than what we’re equipped to describe, which is why grief is something so profound and troubling. When we mourn, we realize that we have lost something so beautiful it injures us at the deepest level possible. However, in loving someone, we internalize a lot of who that person is. In essence, they live in us. In any good relationship, there comes a point when you give enough to another person that they carry little bits of you with them wherever they go. The converse is true. Whenever someone tells you a personal story or shares a memorable experience with you, you unknowingly get a piece of them. We often try to think of souls in terms that we can understand and quantify, but really, is a soul something that has dimensions or can be confined in a small amount of space? One soul can dwell in many bodies by its influence and its light, and friendship, love, and family all encompass this exchange and sharing of souls.
When someone closes his eyes never to return to the mortal world, many get the idea of the one singular soul leaving the body to go wherever they believe souls go when we’re finished with life. What happens to those other parts of the soul that are living inside of that person’s closest companions? Do those pieces go, too? No. They remain here with those who cherish them most, and this is something so profoundly beautiful and hardly understood. While we can no longer physically see the person or touch them, we can look inside of ourselves and find the person exactly as we always loved them. We can even see them in things around us–a camera, a beam of light slanting across the floor, a butterfly. We are never without those we love; they live inside of us, and we keep them alive by remembering–and by grieving. To pretend that the deceased never existed is not only to do them a great disservice, but it’s also to try to kill off a part of yourself.
Many people, me included, avoid grief because of the pain. If you’ve ever lost someone, you know how immense the pain is, and it’s terrifying to think that you have to battle something so strong for such a long time. But there’s something incredible and stunning in the pain of loss: there was something to lose. Feeling such devastation is an indication that you experienced something so cherished in having that person in your life. You feel intense pain because you had intense love, and that’s something amazing, isn’t it? To have someone to lose in the first place is a gift, and even though losing a loved one is the most difficult thing to face, take comfort in the fact that the person you lost lives in you and so many others.
Almost everyone will go through the tragedy of losing a parent at some point in their lives. I have. It’s some of the deepest pain this life can cause. It’s hard to tell myself that it’s beautiful to have been loved by my father because his love was expected, just like every child hopes and expects their parents to love them. It’s hard to find that beauty in having loved, but the fact that I am the living, breathing embodiment of my father far outweighs that. My dad lives in me, and every parent lives inside of their child. It’s a biological fact as much as an emotional one. I can feel him when I look in the mirror and see his nose. I can feel him when I hold the viewfinder of a camera to my eye. I can feel him when I watch Monty Python. He is everywhere because he lives on in me. Our parents will always live in us more than anyone, so to lose a parent, while it’s unbearably painful, isn’t really to lose a parent. It’s horrible, but it’s bearable only for the fact that we can feel them all around us even after they are gone. They shape us, they guide us, and they are us in every way. We all say that we don’t want to turn into them, but after they’re gone, it’s a comfort to know that we could.
Grief is powerful, but it is born from something even more beautiful and profound: love, our comfort and our reason for living.