“You grieve for a longer time if you are unable to attend the funeral”
– the gist of a quote from Diminishing Memories Pt 2, a documentary played in one of my classes!
When the filmmaker ended her video with this quote, it really resonated with me and it’s a great expression of my own encounters with grief. She desperately tried to hold on to the past through remembering the physical structures present then and her documentation served as her grieving process before she eventually came to a sad and quiet acceptance that the physical structures are indeed gone.
Sometimes, it’s more than the physical setting of a funeral – it’s the fact that sometimes, we’re not present for when the friendship/relationship dies… and so many such deaths happen without our realisation until the physical death occurs.
I guess this is really a piece to share a bit of my (shareable)life and hopefully bring some comfort to anyone who’s grieving in my mish-mash unstructured pointless writing.
I was 12 when a classmate passed away of an unexpected illness. We all had to attend counselling and such – they always asked me how I felt and I would always reply that I felt fine. At times, given that it was group counselling, I felt like I had to force my tears out in order to integrate, in order to express my grief the same way. Time passed, the sadness never really went away, and it didn’t for many years. I tried to speak to my friends, but they moved on and they didn’t understand why and how I could be so upset over it because we weren’t close. I honestly found it very strange myself that I would feel so strongly about his death. I wasn’t that close to him. The only time I actually felt close to him was when we spent our mornings carrying out prefect duties with him.
Why do we grieve?
I tried to rationalise my feelings then:
1) Guilt – an unfortunate misunderstanding happened the year before which led to a physical injury (me). Although I was every bit at fault, out of fear, I played up the fact that I was a victim (of my own actions but I never told anyone it was me:( ) and he also felt bad because I physically suffered the consequences so he apologised and got into trouble and also never told anyone 😦
2) Coulda, shoulda, woulda. I couldn’t attend his funeral and it never felt right to me – that I would never get a chance to apologise to him and tell him what a great friend he was.
3) Lost potential – He had so much more to do. The world lost a star too early. I talk about how great he is (he is!), how amazing he would be if he were still alive, how he could bring so much more happiness to so many people instead of me.
4) The shock of it all – How did our relationship die before its death? How did it take me only now to realise that the experiences we had wasn’t sufficient. How can there be death? I’m not prepared for it.
These are all reasons that are perhaps familiar to most of us.
Grief is selfish.
We grieve, because at the end of the day, it is every bit as much about us as it is about them. We grieve because we know it’s too late to be there, because we know our lives could be so much better with them. In our grief, there is a recurring theme of regret and lost opportunities. We always wish that we could have done more, could have been kinder, could have been a better person to them. It is precisely that our grief is so anchored in the past, which makes it difficult for us to move on in the present.
The prolongment of grieving:
Sometimes, we grieve for a longer period of time also because we didn’t have the space to give in to our grief at that moment. We may have been too busy trying to be a support to others. I cannot stress this enough. Sometimes, we forget to give ourselves space to express our emotions because we are too busy trying to be a source of support and solace. Pillars function best with the support of other pillars. It happened to me. I thought I had to be strong and being strong meant not crying. Then, the moment passed for tears – where does that leave me? How do I cry and kick up a fuss at the unfairness of death now? Who do I look for, for support?
You’ll get over it lah. How do I/we get over grief then?
A quote from my favourite author:
“You’ll get over it…” It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?” – Jeanette Winterson
We don’t get over it because we can’t. We will grieve at every moment, at the random reminders, at our happier moments. We will grieve because grieving doesn’t stop. We will grieve because we cannot turn back time. We will always grieve because death and dying will always be unexpected.
“You grieve for a longer time if you are unable to attend the funeral” – there will always be funerals we cannot attend, opportunities we miss, people we wish we could have done more for.
We will grieve because every loss is so unique there is no way another can take its place.
And it’s okay, for it to not stop.
Our grief doesn’t stop, but it matures.
& We can still move on even if we can’t ‘get over it’
We do the best we can in spite of the losses we experience. We move on by trying our best to be in the present with the people who are living. Our grief matures to a quiet hopeful remembrance of the past which in turn affects the choices we make in the present. The emptiness we hold is made marginally better as we continually fill our hearts, so that the empty imprints feel proportionally lighter. Our grief doesn’t stop, it matures.
But you know what, even if our grief doesn’t mature, or if the above doesn’t make sense to you at all, it’s alright. Grieving doesn’t occur along a linear plane nor can it be simplified and explained. You do what you need to, to feel better. Just don’t forget that there will always, always be support if the loss gets too much and too difficult.
(Thank you to Vanessa who helped to organise and lend structure to my thoughts!
& also Yi Xiang for the inspiring image.)