For many reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about grief recently. Well, when I say recently, I mean in the past few years. There are a few reasons for this: The recognition of Covid as a pandemic had more of us thinking about and – sadly – experiencing grief. There was the national (and, to an extent, international) grieving for the British queen when she died last month. This sparked some thoughts on collective grief, performative grief, and ‘real’ grief. Then, closer to home, a friend of mine buried her father over the weekend. Whenever the parent of someone I know dies, one of the things that always strikes me is how I will never feel the grief they feel. (I’ll be writing more about that next week, when I write about grief and abuse.)
I’ve read – and you probably have, too – the Jamie Anderson quote:
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
This has become a very popular explanation for the way we feel when someone dies – but I don’t agree with it. I do not think that grief is love with no place to go.
I think we can expect our grief to be commensurate with the amount of love we had for the person who has died. I do not, however, think that love disappears when the object of our love dies. Nor do I think that it transmutes into grief. They are two separate, discrete, emotions.
Love As A Constant
We are used to having our love impacting, and affecting, the person on whom we bestow it. When the person we love is no longer around for us to project our love onto, and for us to witness their reactions, we think – we are told – that our love has become grief. But it hasn’t. Bear with me while I throw another quote at you, this one from Shakespeare (Sonnet 116):
‘ Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,‘
To me, this makes more sense. My love for someone does not die with them. I still love them, but I also feel the loss of their physical selves. My love is not replaced by, but joined by, grief. Grief becomes a new emotion that I feel for the person who has died.
My beliefs are informed, and shaped, by Hinduism. I accept the notions of Karma, Dharma, and Moksha. I write this almost as a disclaimer, because I’m about to talk about souls – and I know that not everyone shares a belief in the concept of a soul. If the idea of souls offends you, look away now
My desire to be a mother is something I have written about repeatedly. My journey to motherhood was bound up in years of grief. My difficulty conceiving (due, in part, to the damage done to me by years of child sexual abuse), brought me a galaxy of pain. Through all those years, however, there was a flicker of hope inside me. When I thought of the child I was determined to have, I felt a rush of love. I loved my daughter before she was conceived. I thought of her, and sent my love out into the realm of souls to sustain and nourish her until she (re)incarnated. I trusted, and believed, that in the interim, my love would find her soul. When she finally put in an appearance, the love I felt for her suddenly had a tangible place to land. It wasn’t replaced by something else.
Grief As A Constant
When my lovely friend Jaynt died a few years ago, it was sudden, and awful, and compounded by the fact that I couldn’t get back for his funeral. I never got a chance to say goodbye. I never got a chance to mourn with everyone else who was going to miss having him around. I never got the chance to offer support to – and take support from – everyone else who mourned him.
Jaynt and I met in 2000, when we worked on the same TV show. We got on like a house on fire from the first time we met. He was generous, great fun, witty, warm, gregarious, full of mischief, and loyal. He could also, truth be told, be a pain in the arse – but isn’t that true of all of us? I mourn the loss of my friend. I am sometimes overcome with grief and a sense of disbelief that he’s really gone. But my love for him has not disappeared – nor has it turned into anything else. When I think of him, I still feel the love I had for him for nearly 20 years. When I think of him, I send that love to him, the same way I sent the love for my daughter to her before she was conceived.
Grief is not love with no place to go. Grief is the emotion we become acquainted with when we are separated from something, or someone, precious to us. Indeed, it is possible to grieve for something we never even had (more on that next week).
Love is love, and love is not grief. Love is a constant. Sometimes, however, it has to budge up and make room for grief to join it.