The following post is about death, grief, and mortality. Important, but potentially touchy subjects. Consider this fair warning if you plan to read further.
My grandfather died recently, and I’m trying to process my emotions. My father was a Mennonite and his whole side of the family can come across as rather…stoic when it comes to occasions usually replete with intense emotions. I follow in his footsteps as far as the external expression of emotion, and though the recently deceased is not from that side of the family, I expect that they will understand my stony countenance.
Some background on my emotions: while they may not often rise to the surface, are certainly there. For instance, the only movie that brings me to tears is “Hook”: not because I had an absent, success-driven father (I didn’t/don’t), but because Peter could fly and I have been denied that ability/privilege by a paranoid government regulatory agency with little-to-no transparency when it comes to rulemaking. I find “A Beautiful Mind” to be terrifying, and “Pi” to be more-or-less normal. I can’t bring to mind any specific examples of music that educes specific emotions, but I do know that it does so, even for me, though the mood of a piece and the emotion felt may seem dissonant to another.
The point is, while my emotional neurology might be a little askew, and despite outward appearance to the contrary, I do feel a profound sense of loss for my grandfather. I’m sure his children are feeling it far more intensely. But processing this grief, and mentally preparing for the people and the sentiments I will encounter tomorrow and a week from Friday is already beginning to drain the limited emotional budget I seem to have. I’m hoping that putting it to words makes things better.
I’m doing this also as an exercise because I know no one will live forever—though I loved my grandpa, I expect to feel far more intensely the loss of my parents, or, should I remain, the loss of my brother or wife. Should I pass on first, it may help them know how I dealt with it in dealing with their own pain.
Grief is something that no one wishes to practice. Some are “destined” to do so, others will never know it. But the people who have had to deal with it provide the following words of experience, which I will paraphrase (much of this is gleaned from posts at GBB):
One does not “get over” a death. the pain will be with us for the rest of our lives, but the impact the person had on us will also be there. The memories, good and bad. Not everyone can find relief in the expectation of being reunited with their loved one in an afterlife. And the inability to mend fences now after a protracted separation may make the pain even more acute. But recognize that life itself—the one led by the aged grandfather or the teenager “taken” in the prime of her life or any other who was with us, and the life led by you or I from now on—is beautiful, and was, perhaps, just that much better for the life of the one who is now gone. Resolve to remember that person and honor their memory. Make sure you’ve got a life worth living because that’s what they would have wanted.1 Celebrate the past, look to the future. The pain will fade—albeit slowly—but it will never go away. The people in our lives leave indelible marks—the closest ones are the darkest—and when the person is gone, the mark does not go away. If it feels as though that person has been ripped from you, there will be a scar, but scars, even of this type, heal.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted bards
The way to dusty death. Shine on, brief candle!
Life’s all a walking canvas, a rich artist
That paints and dances quickly ‘cross the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by a poet, full of life and beauty,
Macbeth (was struck with despair about his own imminent death, but I try to capture that it is the life that should be celebrated. Yesterdays guide the future, while at the time they may seem petty, plodding, possibly perpetual (couldn’t resist the alliteration, sorry). Death awaits us all in the end, but we paint pictures, dance dances, play music, and imbue our influence to the world. Another Shakesperian monologue states that “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players;” and describes seven ages of man in life. Regardless, the past is there to remember, the future a canvas to paint given the palette by our forebears.
“It’s not a perfect metaphor” (to quote another sage), but maybe it will help me or you.
The sermon here is one that, appropriately modified, I would be willing to deliver (were I called upon to do so) as a eulogy, or that I might like delivered on the occasion of my own death.
- There are exceptions to these sentiments, of course. My memory is pleasant, but if, say, one has lost a domineering spouse or abusive father, one could decide to abandon the past, to break a cycle and do something different because of that person, even while admitting the loss of an abhorrent person can still be devastating emotionally, as love and loss can (and does) transcend that type of pain. I haven’t lived this, but I hope I’m not stepping on the toes of those who have. ↩
- My rework of The Bard’s Macbeth leaves something to be desired, I admit. If I come up with something better, I might remember to stick it here, or someone else can change it. ↩