Grief Is Shit. What Lessons?

As waves of Covid news relentlessly break on our consciousness, several close friends text me about their personal losses. Deaths made even more brutal because they came so swiftly — and there are no mourning protocols during a worldwide lockdown. How do we deal with death when we can’t even touch each another? The fleshy comfort of arms and chest and shoulders. The shared tears and tequila. The gathered remembrances now put off until we can finally leave our homes, bleary moles blinking in the summer sun (hopefully).

Digital solace is cool, at best.

I think my friends turn to me because they know I know loss. They see me still standing after I lost my children in a deeply unfair court battle, a mother living 6000 miles away from her young, now further separated by closed borders. Maybe I have an answer to grief.

I… don’t think I do.

I know grief. She has gnawed at my guts and ribboned my heart. I have spent so long stitching myself back together into a Frankenstein facsimile of a human, a woman who doesn’t writhe and scream every morning she wakes and sees empty bunkbeds.

While people tweet about their anxiety over the uncertain, friends remark how calm I am, knowing I was exposed to the virus when I was last in Paris. It’s like I’ve been inoculated against the unknown. When every touchstone of your existence and identity has already been obliterated, does it matter that you have to stay indoors or wash your ass instead of paper it? I am healthy. I won’t die from this. Or maybe I will. And does it matter still?

I am not a nihilist. That I’m writing this shows my possibly delusional levels of optimism. But grief is shit. There are no medals for surviving the agonies of loss. You can’t quantify the pain so a vaccine can one day be found. It’s simply a terrible thing you endure for a very long time and if it doesn’t break you completely as you crawl and claw your way through, well, congrats.

  1. You’ll forget the pierce of it. Like childbirth or a bone-breaking fall, the initial trauma subsides and your mind and body will smooth over the memory of the pain.
  2. Breath is important. You will forget to breathe. You will cry so hard you can’t breathe. But breath is life; it is divinity. The sooner you learn to master it, the sooner you’ll find the thruway.
  3. You’re not invincible, not immortal. Your friends aren’t. Your family isn’t. Sickness, heartache and death come for everyone. Expect it and don’t be surprised.
  4. When you are cracked open, you can either let the light in or shut down completely. I suggest the former.
  5. When you let the light in, you will know compassion and empathy. You will love in ways that the unscathed-for-now don’t. You will feel your friends’ suffering, the world’s suffering, and it will sometimes be unbearable. But your light and love will heal yourself and others.
  6. Please eat and sleep as much as you can. (I know you can’t.)
  7. This will change and pass. You will be happy again.

I cry for my friends. I rail at the injustices. I don’t have the right words. My heart won’t stop hurting. But to everyone in grief and hopelessness, I see you and I love you. We will get through this together. I promise.

For Joanna. For Lauren. For Charles.