Grief, and the art of loss


Good grief.

It’s one of those expressions that, once you’ve experienced some kind of loss, fails to make any semblance of sense. It lacks resonance. It lacks purpose. An oxymoron by nature, there is no good to be found in grief. Nothing good to be found in lost days and choked back tears, forgotten hobbies and a constant reminder that something is missing. It is a process that everyone must face, but few are willing to discuss. Life goes on, after all.

A few months ago, I lost my grandfather. Suddenly. Really, really suddenly. I got a phone call late at night with the news and I haven’t been the same since. Nobody has. Nobody can be. We’ve got a framed photo of him in the kitchen corner that when I think about it, feels as though it’s been there forever. Three months is not forever. Three months is nothing, and yet it feels like the longest stretch of time I can fathom.

Grandad died two weeks before I started back to college after a year off. It was a tough year. I pushed myself to recover, to figure out what BPD triggers were for me, and learned how to deal with them or minimise their magnitude. I worked on improving myself and pushing myself to try new things. I worked on pushing myself to write and create and try new things, as a promise to myself that for the first time, I was able to do. He died in a week where I didn’t get to see him. The last time I saw him was happy, though. It was normal. I wouldn’t have wanted anything different.

I’d spent that whole year up until the day he died gearing up for my return to college. Working really hard in therapy to create a new, stable baseline for myself so that what was going on inside my head was sustainable over the course of this year, next year, and beyond. When he died, everything I’d worked on shook and rocked and threatened to fall out from underneath me.  I was the girl who had days where missing a bus would induce a panic attack – death did not fit into my rigid routines. Achingly familiar depression had no place sinking claws inside my chest and drawing blood as I stumbled through the days and weeks that followed.

My last gift to him was the eulogy. It was a gift to my family too, as it seemed a waste of my own ability to not be able to help others form their sense of loss into tangible words.

It was the last thing I wrote for months.

Everything else I’ve written has been perfunctory, bar an essay I wrote in a burst of excitement one day. It still sits, waiting. I found no comfort in reading. I have piles and piles of books growing in volume beside my bed, untouched. The covers do little to invite me inside no matter how appealing they seem. Words seem too far away. Libraries offer no solace. Bookshops offer no comfort. I took a blog hiatus because not writing anything made me miserable. I would say it was a mistake, but I gave myself permission to be.

Grief works in the strangest ways. It helps you find out who your friends are. It helps you see the world in a new, unkind light, and figure out what flames are still flickering long after darkness has descended. It threatens to destroy you. I thought it would destroy me. I wanted so much to go back to college this year and take a run at attending every class and doing my absolute best at every assignment, and it hasn’t happened (yet). I’m still caught in a cycle where I’ll approach my house on a Saturday and expect nothing to have changed. I expect to see him watching my dad work on something with apprehension or bemusement, or rooting around in his car for some abstract tool he happened to have lying around. The shock of realising that that’ll never happen again hurts almost as much as finding out at first.

I guess the main thing I discovered through this all is that I am a hell of a lot stronger than I’ve ever considered myself to be. I have been as bold and brave throughout the last few months as I’ve ever known myself to be. We don’t talk about it, but we should – we talk about depression, now, but we’ve forgotten about causational causes of mental illness. Grief is the worst depression I have ever known, because there is no way of minimising it. Nobody can make you roll your eyes by suggesting that you go for a walk or just eat more vegetables. I have never known anything worse than getting into the shower four days after Grandad died and realising that the sinking, aching feeling in my entire body was so familiar, but it had a purpose and I hadn’t a skill set, coping tool or ability in the world to help me. They as in, Fall Out Boy  say a penny for your thoughts but a dollar for your insights, or a fortune for your disaster and there was no amount of motivation in this world that could make me write through my disaster. Art does not come from misery. Art comes from a place of expression and it comes when it’s damn well ready.

I’m ready today. The last week I’ve had ideas spark slowly in the back of my mind, inching into my line of sight. A two-second poem here. A tiny, shitty piece of satire there. A vague notion to try something. An idea, sent out into the world. I cannot exist inside a mind that does not want to create. It is all I have ever known and all I have ever wanted; I grew up knowing I’d be a writer. It never dawned on me to question it. I’m miserable at best without words, living in a world devoid of colour and meaning.

In a roundabout way, I guess what I’m saying is, I’m back.


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