In my most recent journal entry, I talked about happiness, which obviously suggests unhappiness. But that is not the right category when someone has just lost a beloved child. That category is desolation/anguish/misery as opposed to joy/elation/euphoria.
Desolation/anguish/misery all relate to loss and therefore grief. In the months after Paul’s death I found that on those occasions when I honoured the grief – thinking, feeling, remembering – I felt close to Paul. But on those other occasions when I allowed myself to be distracted by busyness, Paul was fading away from me like the shade of Eurydice. Despite the pain of the grieving I needed to persevere if I wanted to feel close to him. As a result of the thinking, feeling, remembering, I talked a great deal about him. At first my friends looked taken aback, not to say embarrassed, but they got used to it over time. I had lost Paul’s future. I didn’t want to have also lost his past. This has meant that friends and carers can speak of him as a real person in the same way that I can speak about their loved ones even though I haven’t met them.
There is a strange element in grief. Just as tears and laughter may be close together, so grief and joy may also be connected. Once, in tears I was walking in the rain through bush at Lake Brunner. I had no need to wipe the tears as the rain was adding to them copiously. I stopped for a moment, looked up at a punga (tree fern) against the sky and suddenly I was flooded with joy. It was like a see saw; the misery had completely gone. I believe this experience of a total reversal of mood is called metanoia.
Grief has a strange poignancy; it heightens contrasts, black becomes blacker and white becomes whiter. Both grief and joy may serve the same purpose: they enlarge the ego, pushing it beyond its limited boundaries. It’s easy to see how joy can achieve this, but harder to understand the paradox that grief can also function this way. Somehow grief that has been honoured, relativises us. We are bought face to face with our microscopic insignificance as part of a crowded world in a vast, ancient universe. Paradoxically this may act as an enlargement.
I am forced to resort to the language of mysticism:
to be full, we must first have been empty:
to be free, we must first have been imprisoned:
to be chaste, we must first have been ravished:
to be light, we must first have been dark.
Obviously words are inadequate purveyors of such truth so I will resort to those of a great poet, T.S. Eliot:
“a condition of complete simplicity,
costing no less than everything.”