There’s a violence to grief that surprises me no matter how many times I go round it. This is not simply an issue for grief around the deaths of loved ones. It comes up around other things and people that I’ve lost. There is a force to it than rams into me like a punch in the gut, and that can come out of nowhere.
Grief is at its most powerful, raw and predictable in the immediate aftermath of loss. You expect it then, there is a degree of preparedness and the people around you are likely to know and be supportive.
However, with life-defining grief, it can come back at any time, a sudden body blow that may put you on your knees in entirely literal ways. There are still days when the death of my grandmother hits me like a blow. There are friends whose absence can suddenly and unexpectedly reduce me to tears. There are cats I have mourned for twenty years and more. Usually this is quiet, and invisible, and sometimes it isn’t.
I’ve never liked the idea that grief is something we have to get over. A terrible loss is not something to forget or put aside. It becomes part of who you are, and you learn to keep moving as best you can while carrying it. Grief is deeply intertwined with love, and it is the memory of love without being able to ever see the beloved again that brings the body blows.
The worst kinds of grief are laden with regret. Those are the hardest to keep carrying, and often the most violent. It’s the things that can’t be said, or fixed or changed that hurt most, I have found. It’s a different negotiation to learn how to carry on when full of the grief of regret. It’s as much as anything, a process of self forgiveness. Processing the regrets isn’t easy, and is best not done alone – it can be hard to get a decent perspective on these things when you are overwhelmed.
Grief that is rooted in love becomes bearable over time, because we learn to carry the love and cherish the pain of loss as a measure of that love. Grief rooted in regret offers no such consolations and making peace with it is a harder process.