Grief is a treacherous companion. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Grabs you in your most vulnerable moments and at the most vulnerable parts of you—your brain, your heart, your lungs. Then, it spreads through your limbs and your guts. There is no escaping it.
You can’t make it your enemy because you will lose, anyway, no matter what you do. So, you have to make it your companion and live with it. You may even have to nurture it. It is ironic that way. It will only let go of you if you occasionally nurse it. Otherwise, it lies somewhere in your insides and remains there. Every once in a while, it will pounce on you to remind you it’s still around. It could do that, too, longer than you could imagine.
If you acknowledge its presence and share it with others, especially those who’ve also made a companion of it, then it bothers you less. Perhaps. Or, you may just begin to fall in love with it—at which point, you will miss it, maybe learn to wallow in it, take pleasure in it, and make it your companion forever. That, unfortunately, could only end in disaster: For, while loving it initially brings you attention, indulgence, and solicitude, grief does eat away at you. It nibbles on your heart and/or your lungs. It can spread a malignancy in your brain—a malignancy that may not be palpable but that does assert itself and ultimately makes mush of your brain, if you don’t excise it.
You can channel grief, though. You can be creative with it or be merely engaged in a mechanical sort of way. It is not picky as to how you choose to make it flow through you: either way, channeling makes grief a more bearable companion. It may even bring you fame and fortune. Artists have been known to use grief either to motivate them or to make it the subject of their art. Still, you must take care not to fall in love with it. Mastering grief requires detachment at some point.
Grief is a passage, a stage of life, if you live long enough. But, unlike infancy, adulthood or any other stages that happen at a predetermined period, it can come at any time, several times in your life, and lasts for as long as it needs to. Time is the only thing that can and will exhaust grief. Time may not vanquish it, though. You alone can do that when, at the proper moment, you pass grief on to others, your loved ones certainly.
Yes, I have made grief my companion. Many times. Time did overcome grief in all those instances.
But, it’s back—within hours of stepping off the plane that flew me back from Paris. I told you it’s treacherous.
Grief follows loss. It is as big as what that loss means to you. This time, mine is big because I lost someone I grew up with; someone too young yet to leave, someone I’ve loved, played with, laughed with, and shared grief with. Someone I expected to pass grief on to.
I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone and cope with it any way I can. With this beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, for instance, about a child awakening to the experience of loss:
Spring and Fall: to a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrows springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.