One of the most challenging—and daunting—things as a writer is the knowledge that someone, somewhere, at some point, has already dealt with the things that you want to deal with in your writing. And probably done them better (just saying). As with most thinking associated with writing, I find this almost paralysing: what’s the point, then, of continuing to try? What can I, just one individual, bring to an idea or experience that hasn’t already been put into words—or music, or paint, or sculpture—and probably done far better than I could ever hope to do?
So, as always, I’ll muddle my way through it and do the best I can.
I didn’t expect to cry while writing this post, cold though that may seem. I thought I’d cried all my tears. But it seems that I am constantly being reminded that that, surely, is impossible; the only reason our tears stop is because our pain heals, and death is a wound that can never truly heal, only ease a little with time. And grief is patient, and steady, and unwavering, and it will wait until you least expect it before it sinks its claws into you. Such a strange, amorphous beast. It refuses to fit into an ideal of what we think it will look, or to a timetable we might wish to impose on it. It reveals itself in ways that are somehow not surprising, and yet simultaneously unexpected, both a stealthily creeping fog and a ravenous predator. It is somehow both for sharing with those we love, and for cradling close to ourselves when we’re alone, trying to figure out how this reshaping of the world will now figure into our lives.
It is the ache of goodbye when what we want is just one more word, one more smile, one more hug.
I have never before felt the kind of loss that I have experienced in the past three weeks. My grandfather’s death was completely and utterly unexpected. Naive though it might sound, he was one of those people that you couldn’t help but believe would somehow live forever: a force of nature. A strong and steady rock in a storm. A constant. Hearing of his death knocked the wind out of me. It crumpled me to the ground and it engulfed me. Human beings are strange creatures, and we often retrospectively ascribe memories, ideas or emotions to situations that are completely unrealistic or untrue… Yet I can’t help but think that I could feel the moment that I shattered under that blow. Because how can you hear that information, living on the other side of the world, feeling as though you’re completely removed from what’s going on, and process it? How can you understand it? How do you find the way to recognise, and acknowledge and accept that someone who has been a permanent fixture in your life for as long as you’ve been alive is no more?
It was so quick: there was nothing anyone could have done, no way that anyone could have predicted it… And nothing left to do afterwards but collect our shattered hearts from the cold floor of the hospital and try to figure out how to piece them back together when a piece had been brutally removed. I don’t know how long that’ll take us, any of us. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed as I write this; every time I am confronted with the permanence of this, the intractability of death, I’m left shaken. These words are clumsy where I try to put them on the page, knowing that I am still just a little child trying to solve the oldest and most painful puzzle of humanity: how to let go and find peace.
I lay in bed that night unable to sleep. My mind whirred endlessly, fruitlessly, irrationally: worrying about what dress I was going to wear to the service, where I was going to buy black shoes, what I would need to pack, when I should fly to Australia, when I should fly back to the US again. All of these things, feeding on me in the darkness until I thought my bones might be picked clean with the insatiable scavenging of my own mind. And all of that felt like a betrayal, to be consumed by the mundane in the middle of something cataclysmic. Yet the mundanity is part of humanity: we must continue, life must continue, in the presence of death, despite our loss, we must continue on. Sometimes that feels like the cruellest truth of all. We will continue to live without him, and there will always be something missing in our lives because the space he has left can never be filled. And death, by its very nature, must be synonymous with our regrets: that we didn’t call more often, that we didn’t ask more questions, that we didn’t do all of those things that are now impossible forevermore. Yet, if there is regret, there must also be the first painful birthing of joy amongst the ache of loss: that we were given so much—time, experience, laughter—that we were so fortunate to know and to love such a wonderful man.
Part of the reason that loss is so hard is because we were lucky enough to have something incredible in our lives, and letting go of that hurts. In knowing that, even as I’m still learning to navigate the treacherous water of my own grief, and of others, and even as I am still coming to terms with the ways in which my world and the world of my family has fundamentally changed, I am grateful. I am grateful to have the financial resources to fly halfway around the world at the drop of a hat without worrying about the long-term implications of my choices. I am grateful to be part of a family who has, despite varying interpersonal relationships and personal challenges, come together in solidarity to love and support one another during this time. I am beyond grateful to have a partner who supports me, no matter what I do—who holds me when I cry, who listens to and validates my feelings regardless of what they are, who decided that I needed to come home before I had even had a chance to think about it—and no matter how challenging it may simultaneously be for him. I am grateful that in choosing to write his biography, I had the chance to interview and get to know my granddad a little bit more, learning things that much of our family had never heard before, before he passed away. I am grateful that he trusted me with his childhood, that he believed in me and my ability to do him justice, as I want so, so badly to do.
And I am grateful, more grateful than I can say, that I was blessed to have twenty-six years of a grandfather who was not only ridiculously intelligence, passionate, and driven, but was also loving, and kind, and wise; that saying goodbye is so hard only because of who he was.
How could I not be?