Feeling to survive
The first time that I started to write about grief was on the first anniversary of my sister’s death. I called it ‘some words - one year on.’ I remember the night and the words pouring out of me.
Today is four years. Just like that. I always go back to my first post on each new anniversary and I absorb my words and feel their rawness. I never intended to share them on a blog at the time, so I think in a way they have a heightened vulnerability to them.
Every year, I miss my sister more and more. I read something the other week that said we are defined not just by what we achieve, but by how we survive. But I don’t think we talk enough about how we survive.
So this year, I’ve gone back to read the words that people sent to me after I shared my first words with them. I know that some wounds can never be fixed or healed. But the words from those close to me have nourished my heart tonight. I can only hope that I am able to nourish your heart tonight in some way too - by being real and honest and by saying that sometimes, I just have to let everything wash over me. To put my hand on my heart and say that I am truly alive means that I have to feel. That is part of survival.
There is an essay by John Birmingham called ‘On Father’ which tells the story of the death of his father and the depths of his depression. Emerging from months of darkness, he ends his essay with the following words:
Grief is the feeling of finding ourselves in the world again. It brings us to know ourselves anew. Not just who we were, but who we will become. It is not merely the somatic expression of an existential crisis, it is the way we question all of our previous commitments and beliefs, because the death of somebody upon whom we had depended so much cannot but throw those commitments and beliefs into doubt. Grief remakes us. The maelstrom of suffering teaches us not just what we fear, but also how we can endure and one day prevail.
My father taught me all these things. He wrote them in the sky, because the sky is always there. It cannot really fall. It might cloud over. It will turn dark. But from him I learned that all I need do is turn my gaze upward and breathe, and eventually even the greatest storms and darkest nights will pass.
Tonight is a dark night, but I know that it will pass. I will find the sun tomorrow. Because the thing is, my hands never get cold like they used to, and I know it’s you, holding my hands and keeping them warm.