I was reading an article today about grief, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. One of the things that really stuck in this article was about the platitudes people throw at you when you are grieving… mainly, “It happened for a reason”. They make the assumption that, if you became a deeper, more compassionate, better person after the loss, that this loss was somehow necessary for your evolution. Like the author, I don’t agree with this either. I want to share a small excerpt from his article, as it really resonated with me and got my gears turning:
“...But loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in some ways it’s hardened me. While loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it’s also made me more inclined to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature and a greater impatience with people who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people…
...To say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young.
...I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it simply because I was strong enough, that I became “successful“ because I ”took responsibility.“ I think people tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand….”
I feel the same about how the losses of Drew and my parents have changed me. This life has hardened me. I’ve spent most of my life with death and grief as visitors, and despite the ways it has made me a better person… it is not the loss itself that did so. It was not some magical strength or ability that people like to pretend we have once we’ve endured loss, either.
Yes, I am a very resilient person. Yes, I’ve survived a lot of heartache and I am still here, determined and working daily to rebuild a life of meaning and beauty. But all of that came from the trades made, the agreements accepted over time about continuing to live on. Not some innate inner strength or courage, but from what life itself has taught me about being alive.
We’ve traded a lot, in the aftermath of loss, to keep on living a life that has meaning and eventually, joy in it. We trade innocence for resilience. We give up naivety and unknowingness and instead accept a deep understanding of the fragility and pain inherent in walking this earth. It’s a haunting knowing, but one that allows us certain advantages. We trade the sugary taste of denial and the ease of ignorance for the healthier and more useful perspective of reality. It allows us to be less shocked about the pains of life, and thus, more resilient when pain does happen. And more open to letting the feelings of pain run through us. This trade, though, means to give up the illusion of safety that denial and innocence creates.
Not a day goes by that I am unaware of the possibility of death. With every positive thing that comes into my world, there is at least one moment of considering when the pain will come. When I will lose this thing. It’s not a worry, or something I get overwhelmed by, so much as a knowingness. A quiet understanding. A silent agreement that I have made in deciding to live a life. I know, at some point, that all things will be lost. It is the price of getting to be here, the price of this also beautiful, incredible, stunning world that is full of as much love as it is pain.
I wonder sometimes if other cultures, or our own American culture long ago, had a better understanding of this. We had funeral services in our homes, and took care of our dying ourselves. Many other cultures still do this, as well as other customs around death and dying that seem to make it much more a normal, accepted part of life. It seems as though we have removed death and loss from our overall culture to such a degree now, though, that we have collectively come to think of it as this shocking, unfathomable thing that shouldn’t happen. But when you really think about it… living on this earth, with all its perils, and somehow living a long and relatively painless life seems honestly, against all odds.
I personally feel like it would be a miracle to live to be 80 and for my partner to make it that far too. Not a rule, but a serious exception of having dodged illness and disease and sudden freak accidents for decades. When I look at it that way, it seems so odd for me to have had the naive belief that I would get to be with Drew for all of my days. I could only have that view after making some trades, though. Accepting some awful truths about life. I used to assume I would have Drew for all time. That I deserved loss-free life after losing my parents.
Loss can be very humbling though. Now, with Mike, I find myself thinking often, and sometimes saying to him “I hope I get to have you for a very long time”. I know now, that I don’t have any privilege when it comes to death. None of us do. I know now, to hold in my heart a humble gratitude that life has given me this person for even one more day. It doesn’t take away the haunting knowing that death will one day come. I don’t like that I am more cynical, harder, and that my thoughts do so frequently lean towards death and loss. Trading innocence for understanding has made it easier to live with though. And holding an acceptance of loss close by has made me more able to embrace the beauty of what it is here before it’s gone.
Source: Read "Not Everything Happens for a Reason", by Tim Lawrence, the full article I quoted above.