In the last few days the subject of grief has come up again and again. There are probably many pilgrims walking The Way in memory of someone. Pilgrims have left small plasticized photos of their loved ones tied to a fence. A tree is laden with ribbons, each ribbon has a name written on it. There are many memorials along the way. Pilgrims have died on the walk and their families have left markers.
A table with two boxes beside the path. Write a name, leave it in one box. Take a name from the second box and say a prayer for that person.
Being a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago gives you plenty of time to think, to mull things over. Sights along the way, a book, a few podcasts, and thoughts all dealing with grief have culminated. So this is a different post. Maybe too heavy so if you want the usual happy travel post race ahead to the next post…or re-read the one about the otters.
I often wonder how much grief a person can put up with? Is the death of one family member half the grief of the death of two family members? Is the grief different depending on who has died? Or how they died? How do people cope with being the sole member of a family to survive? Like the Jews of WWII whose whole families were rounded up and exterminated with only a few who survived. How do they live a life after? What about Syrian refuges, many of whom drowned while escaping? The Syrian father who made the decision to take a boat and lost his son . The photo of him carrying his drowned son shook the world with grief, a grief that such a tradgedy could happen but not the anguishing grief experienced by the father: that the war in Syria could happen. That they were forced to flee. That their only hope was on overcrowded unseaworthy ship. That the father had made these decisions so that his son could live, only to lose his son. That must be a very deep grief.
Epidemics like the smallpox epidemics that plagued the west coast in the last few hundred years wiping out as much as 80% of the population. If you were one of the few to survive, how could you handle the grief? Tragic grief but a grief a few other survivors shared in common. Does sharing a common grief make it any easier?
I listened to a podcast today, a story a woman from Rowanda told of her survival in a massacre inside a church where hundreds had gathered for safety. When the gunmen opened fire she dove between two pews and those slaughtered by first bullets, then machetes, fell on top of her. Her friends and neighbours. A whole neighbourhood bleeding to death on top of her. She tells us ‘have you felt the grief of loosing a loved one? Take that grief and multiply it by a thousand.’
They say many survivors experience ‘survivors guilt’. Why me? Why did I survive and not them? Maybe I could have saved them? I know partners or parents feel guilt. Not having done this or that. Leaving things unsaid. If only… .
An ex-boyfriend and his two young sons were killed in a horrific car accident on their way home. How did his wife who wasn’t in the car manage to remain sane after that? Tragic grief too but more of an isolating grief. Why them? Why my family? Why not me?
Perhaps aging and seeing all your siblings and friends pass away one by one is easier? After all dying is natural. Can there be levels of grief? Can grief be easy or hard? Isn’t grief just grief?
Is aging and experiencing grief as first your parents, then friends and finally your siblings pass away, just a phase followed by a feeling of aloneness, a life stage without common memories to share with those that experienced them with you? Is this aloneness a type of grieving for those shared memories dying or for a person dying? Is grief and aloneness an inevitable cross to bear? An expectation and responsibility of aging? What if you outlive all these AND your children? That is not an expectation so how does surviving a child’s death change grief?
Another podcast. A mother telling how she lost her son. Brilliant but inflicted with psychotic episodes he left home to go to work. He left work to have lunch. He left the restaurant before his food was ready. That was it. He disappeared. Weeks went by before they found his body. He had committed suicide. It was a confusing death. The death certificate said the date his body was found, but to the family they knew it was the date he disappeared. People were embarrassed. Friends didn’t know how to help the family. It was a grief that confused them. It was a grief for not being allowed the grief of an accidental death.
Sometimes I wonder if the grief is for the person who has died or a selfish poor-me-what-am-I-going-to-do-without-them grief?
Today I listened to an audio book ‘Grief is the THING with feathers’ by Max Porter. It is a book that smacks you in the face. It jars you. A young widower (Man) with two young boys tries to deal with their grief when a crow (Crow) moves in. The crow feeds on grief. A Trickster who teaches him (Man) that grief doesn’t go away but hopelessness does.
I haven’t found any answers, merely more thoughts…
The Rowanda woman after experiencing so much grief sums up her experience ‘Imagine you know you only have two years to live. What will you do?’
Crow on the other hand….
Crow: “Grief is everything. It is the fabric of selfhood and beautifully chaotic. It shares many mathematical characteristics of natural forms.”
Crow: “where to begin? …Feathers….’
I listened to it twice.
You can watch the author read a part here