“We need to practice our kiss for the wedding,” Joe said, pulling Jami close. Should his hands be pressed against her cheeks or wrapped around her waist?
Now, Jami couldn’t remember which one he had decided that day. The monochrome photograph shows them pressed against one another with Joe’s hands softly resting on her neck, thumbs tenderly grazing both of her cheeks.
Some people’s hearts just stop beating, the doctor told Jami. This was enough of an explanation because the fact remained that Joe was dead, leaving her widowed at 26 as a mother of one with another on the way.
There’s an enduring duality to life after loss. “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything,” C.S. Lewis observed of his own grief.. For Jami, 15 years after Joe’s death, the happiness captured in that wedding photograph is present still, in the memory. But it is equally met with the sting of his absence.
My dad’s heart just stopped beating, too. Cocaine and whiskey, or heart disease? I’m sure the former didn’t help the latter, but the coroner was more decisive: it was the more fun option of the two. Makers Mark on ice, make that two. Laughing till we would cry most nights.
One of my Dad’s favorite songs was Neil Young’s ‘My My Hey Hey.’
“It’s better to burn out, than to fade away,” he’d always coo. He was shot from a cannon one Tuesday, out of this life. So, fade away, he did not. The bastard.
When brushing your teeth becomes an insurmountable challenge and the only energy you have is reserved for laying in bed— maybe then you need a different strategy.
It was unbearable losing Joe. “This pain…I can not live with,” Jami thought. It was time to strategize. She would start counseling, do her “ABC’s,” check off each stage of grief, and put the sadness behind her. At her first counseling session she came with a plan: to ask the one question she needed answered most.
“How long does it take people to get over this?” she asked.
“I wanted to know there was an end,” she remembered thinking.
Now, she continues to discover that there isn’t. “The truth is, we just learn to live with it,” Jami explained. This is what she knows now. “It’s just now this part of you, this scar in your soul that has forever changed who you are.”
She continues.“It’s like the worst heartbreak ever. It’s like just… heartbreak… and there’s nothing you can do. You just learn to carry it.”
Amy wakes up in a puddle of tears that turn her gray sheets coal. Often she finds herself staring at the ceiling fan or at one spot on the wall for hours in silence as she lays on her living room couch.
Talking to Amy about the death of her father brings to mind a sculpture by the American artist Celeste Roberge of what looks like a cage in the shape of a body, crouched over in pain. The body is filled with rocks and weighs over two tons. The sculpture has been collectively deemed “the weight of grief.”
I imagine a sculpture the shape of Amy laying on that couch as she tells me this.
Amy lost her father a month after I lost mine. Time and circumstance had determined she should not see her father— it didn’t look like him anymore.
My Mom, sisters and I went to the funeral home five times to see my Dad to try to confront the reality that his lifeless body should have jolted us into. Details like this can seem callous but these are the kinds of details that grieving people are supposed to live with.
So the question remains: how do you, Amy, continue your day when the thought of your own father’s body, the one that held you when you were sad and you loved so dearly, fading away comes to mind? Do the assaults lessen?
Close your eyes. Point. And ask the person you’re pointing at who they miss. A name will likely roll off of their tongue without hesitation. Grief is a ubiquitous part of the human condition.
Jimmy often stands in Times Square attempting to sell comedy show tickets to tourists. Bereaved people seem to have invisible magnets that pull them to one another— if only for a brief moment. I suppose that’s how we ended up in a rundown bar serving $2 draught beers in the shadow of the glowing billboards just blocks away.
Casually, he offered that he had lost his father in a similar fashion to mine on an otherwise uneventful day. Dreams, we agreed, could be unforgiving – a period of time when, in theory, mourners should be allotted a reprieve but which end up nothing like that.
He hadn’t dreamt of his father for years but could vividly recall the last one he had.
In his adolescence, Jimmy and his father would spend time together exploring abandoned houses and structures. In this dream, Jimmy was on a sidewalk alone looking up at one particularly dilapidated house, situated on a hill, making it feel more distant than the others surrounding it. In one open window he could see his dad peering down at him. Jimmy was screaming and pleading desperately for him. Once his screams calmed, knowing they were futile, he looked back up at the window. “Dad, I’m sorry,” he said. Jimmy never attended his father’s funeral.
“I know,” his dad replied with a soft smile. He turned his back and walked away, no longer in sight. Jimmy woke up and hasn’t dreamt of him since.
Jami has leaned on the Lord through her loss, making her faith even stronger than it was before. It has allowed her a certain grace that she has seen others in a haze of grief struggle to find as they turned to drinking, drugs, anything to numb the hurt.
I know what she means by lacking grace; I’m fluent in this.
My sisters and I have inherited my fathers recklessness.
When I was 19, I spent a week in Varanasi walking along the Ghats on the Ganges. There is one main Ghat called the “Burning Ghat.” This is the holiest place for Hindus where they pay large sums to have their family members cremated with the flames of a fire that is said to have been burning for centuries.
Indian women are rarely allowed to attend these ceremonies as they are viewed as too emotional; crying would only disturb the dead.
I walked further down the river where I saw a family of five men preparing what I would later learn was an uncle to some and a brother to others. He was wrapped in a white cloth and had been placed on a bed of wood. One man went down to the river with a bucket. He poured the holy water on the body to cleanse and bless him. I sat on the steps far enough away so as to not disturb them. I lit a cigarette. Almost simultaneously, the men lit the body on fire and walked over to me to ask for a cigarette.
They sat down next to me, taking long drags as they watched the body slowly begin to make its way into ash. No one cried.
Once the man’s body turned completely to ash, his reincarnation cycle would have ended. He would now be able to reach Nirvana.
At the time this absence of tears was such a foreign concept to me. When I had tried not to cry, it was to avoid disturbing the living.
My friend Ashley had been shot in the head by her ex-boyfriend the day after she left him, the summer before college. Her eyes were green with specks of gold and her face populated by freckles. A smile seemed to always be plastered on her face.
Her mom, devoutly Catholic, decided to have an open casket at the viewing. At the sight of her injured face, caked by makeup, it took everything in me not to melt into tears. But her mom was watching, seemingly shell shocked. I didn’t cry.
I asked Jami if her grief has evolved in any way. This was my less obvious way of asking whether it gets easier, but she knew what I really meant.
“I don’t know if it’s evolved,” she explained. “If I sit here, I could put myself right back there and feel that pain. But I’ve evolved.” This was her gentle way of saying, time goes on without those we lose despite every desperate attempt for it not to.