Words haven’t been writing themselves throughout my day lately. The pain is still there, bereft of insights, epiphanies, themes. The grief, I think today, has gone stale. I create my own three stages of grief: fresh, stale, and rotten. The key, now that I’m in the second stage of my new three-tiered system, is to seal this up before it grows foul. But how does one do that?
A while back, a widow friend had forwarded me an interesting article on a new book entitled, “Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us.” The pop psychology of recent decades has created this notion that in order to be healthy, there must be closure. This book suggests that by aiming for this invented notion of closure, one may actually do more harm than good. After all, my husband is not coming back to life. I am not being given the missed opportunity to say goodbye or I’m sorry or tell him the cute things his daughter said today. He is still dead.
“The closure narrative assumes that grief is bad and that it’s something that needs to end, and it assumes that closure is possible and that it’s something good and something that people need to have. Grief is a difficult, messy experience and can be very painful. A lot of people carry loss and grief for much of their lives, but that doesn’t mean that the pain is as intense as it was the first few months. You carry that loss and grief, but you learn how to integrate that into your life . . . .We grieve for a reason. We grieve because we miss the person who died, or because of whatever loss we’re experiencing. Our grief expresses how we’re feeling and allows us to acknowledge that loss. So asking or expecting someone to try and end that quickly is really misunderstanding the importance of those emotions.“
There will never be a day in my life that I will not miss you. So, there will never be a day without grief. That is very difficult to acknowledge- maybe even more so for others than me. No one wants to believe this is the case. People want to believe maybe you’ll marry again and start over…find happiness. Maybe. But as my widow friend and I agree- this is irrelevant to our pain. It is not a matter of shutting or opening the door to any future happiness, big or small. That is simply irrelevant to the loss. The loss, you see, has staying power.
This goes against every grain in our culture. People don’t keep things anymore. They throw them out and get new ones. If a new political leader isn’t getting rid of our debt in 24 months, we want to reelect someone else. Twelves months after buying the latest gadget, a new cell phone comes out and people line up to get it.
Perhaps in decades or even centuries past, people didn’t have this same need for closure because they kept things. My great grandmother was allowed to wear black for the rest of her life after her husband died. Her visits from Italy left a four year old me referring to her simply as “the one who wears black.” And my grandmother – she was allowed to keep an entire enclosed porch filled with shelves of rinsed out jars and tins. And my grandfather wouldn’t let me throw out a crumb of food from my plate. They came of age in the Great Depression. Whatever you had, you held on to it, I suppose. And grief really, is no different. The economy of the soul has taken a hit.
It is different though, in this: the lack of closure is not hoarding. It is more as if prior to your death, my life was thread on fabric, weaving in and out and stitching a design. And then suddenly, I became the fabric and grief became the thread tied around a sharp needle. It is that integral now and always will be.
Someone posts on your Facebook wall, something nice, but it all ends with that qualifying word I loathe: “still.” “I miss you dearly still.” It reminds me that for others, a lot of time has passed. There is a loyalty and a certain diligence in that word. But the widow, she doesn’t need that word. It is unnecessary. Because you are still dead. As long as you remain so, I will miss you.
We joked so often that I should’ve been born in Emily Dickinson’s time (though you threatened that I wouldn’t be able to handle the medical practices at the time), or even in the 1930’s or 40’s. Back when people kept things. And you, Dan, you kept things. You wore the same clothes for 15-20 years. Now that I write that, it seems crazy, but it’s true. The basketball shorts you’d had since high school and wore when I picked you up in Staten Island the first time we played music together are one of the few items I didn’t pack away. I kept them in my drawer. Even when I’d try to convince you to let me buy you new things, you’d always say, “But I like those…” You didn’t toss things aside. I bought you a desk for your production equipment/computer when we first got married, but later in one of my design makeover crazes, I said I was going to get a different one and sell that one. “But I like this one…you got it for me.”
Things meant something to you. And your life meant something to me. Integrate it? I will. And we already do. Audrey and I never fail to sing your peanut butter and jelly song when she eats that- the one you wrote as a little boy and sang to me. We clink glasses and say “Cheers” often, the way you did. We listen to the “tour mix” on your ipod while she plays with play dough or paints with glitter glue. I subscribe to updates about your favorite soccer team and do pushups before bed the way you did. I suppose this is all integration. But it is not closure.
The closest thing to “acceptance”- that horrible, clinical grief word- is realizing that you will not have closure, that you will always have this piercing ache- sometimes dull and sometimes sharp, that on that last day when you take your last breath, your last thoughts will surely be of him- even years and years from now. “And will I see him now? I have waited, so, so long.” You can not put this away or seal it up- I cannot end these months of writings with one final zinger of a post. I have not hidden my grief or ran from it. It will not grow foul. There is a difference between foul and kept. It will be kept and kept well. Because it is, after all, my love for you turned inside out. It is messy and full of loose ends and stitching, but it is still love. The best I can hope for is that as it ages, this ache becomes familiar and reminds me of a love I once had- like the desk sitting in the corner of our room tonight, like our daughter as she grows into a beautiful young woman, and like your old basketball shorts, soft, worn, still with your scent upon them, folded neatly in my drawer.
Love it! I have not lost a husband, but a friend to suicide. I know its different from your loss, but nearly a dozen years later there are days it still just hurts. Closure is such a loaded word and confuses me. Im not over his loss, so I cant fathom how u would ever be over yours.
This is the post I keep coming back to. It is haunting and beautiful. You're so gifted with words, Julia. You express feelings that I literally feel in my heart; reading this post makes my heartbeat change. Thank you for allowing me to read it.