What Grief Taught Me About Love

It always amuses me when I see “biographies” of young celebrities. “Biography” connotes more than a simple depiction of the facts of a life. It should tell us the person’s early influences, their failures and successes, their growth through adversity and grace during prosperity, and most of all,  how they ended up where they ended up. What does any of that have to do with an eighteen-, twenty-, or even thirty-year old celebrity? Sure we can see what their childhood influences are, but how do those early years affect their later ones? How do they carry themselves throughout a lifetime of success and failure? What did they learn? (Quite frankly, what is there to say about a person who acheives success at an early age and who maintains that success? So they struggled for a few years. So what? Many people struggle a lifetime and achieve nothing but old age.)

In fiction, the starting point of the story is when the character first encounters a major change that ruptures the status quo of his or her life, and it ends when s/he has established a new normal, a new status quo. In non-fiction, biographies especially, you expect the sweep of years, not merely a fraction of the life. (But then, who am I to say that biographies are non-fiction.)

When a person dies, you can begin to see the sweep of his life. It exists entire and whole in itself, without possibility of change. It is only then that you can make sense of that life, at least as it pertains to you. (I’m not sure we can ever truly make sense of another’s life, since so much of one’s life is internal and hidden from view.) So it is with me and my life mate/soul mate. I can see more clearly what we were to each other and why I still grieve his death.

What we had didn’t feel like love. After a few brief years of hope and happiness, our love was sublimated by the constraints of his growing ill health. It seemed that our cosmic love devolved into the prosaic things of life: cooking meals, doing errands, struggling to keep our retail business alive. And then it devolved further into simply surviving. Getting through the days as best as we could. We always knew we had a deep connection, though we never understood it and at times we both railed against it in our struggle to maintain our own identities, but we took that connection for granted. And what is that connection if not love?

It’s only when the story is ended that you can see the truth of it. And the truth is that love is not what you feel, but what you do. Love is being together, sharing good times and bad. It’s about not being afraid to explore who you are and what you will become. It’s about being together however you can for however long you can.

My wish for you, during this season of giving, is that you find enough love to last a lifetime.

Trying to Relight My Life

When I was in high school, I participated in a thesis project for a doctoral candidate. He was trying to prove (I think) that given the right tools, anyone could teach and anyone could learn. The high school students were to teach kids from the lower grades about various aspects of science. During the first class, I handed each of my students a battery and a light bulb and asked them to turn on the light. They couldn’t of course. I asked what they needed, and one kid said they needed a wire. I handed everyone a wire. A bit of experimentation later, they realized they needed a second wire. So, I handed out another wire, and in a very short time all those light bulbs were lit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently — not the program so much as those wires linking the battery terminals to the light bulb. It seems to me that ever since the death of my life mate, one of the wires is missing from my electrical system, and nothing lights me.

Take movies, for example.

My family didn’t have a television when I was growing up, and we seldom went to the movies, so I read to get my daily dose of stories. I wasn’t a speed reader, but was a skimmer — if there was a boring part, such as long descriptions, inane dialogue, and action scenes that went nowhere, I fast forwarded. Skimmed in other words. As a young adult, I went to the movies occasionally, but found most of them dull since I couldn’t skip over the boring parts.

After we’d been together for a few years, my life mate and I signed up for an assortment of movie channels. Back then there were only four premium channels, and those channels offered dozens and dozens of new choices every month. The two of us became entranced with movies. It was something we could share, and the enjoyment we each felt enhanced the enjoyment the other felt. The humor was funnier when shared. The tender scenes more touching. The scary scenes more horrifying. And I wasn’t bored. Didn’t need to skim.

He started taping the movies we liked, then he taped those he liked that I didn’t (such as genre westerns and war movies) then he went on to tape good parts of bad movies and finally he taped the best of the rest.

He’s gone now, but his movie collection remains. I have over 1000 movies to sort through (since I won’t be able to keep them all), so I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, and I discovered something interesting. The movies that thrilled us, made us laugh, electrified us, the movies that radiated life — the movies that once seemed life personified — are now simply . . . movies. Films. Faded stories on a flat screen. As with the films I saw as a young adult (before I met him), these movies now seem to have nothing to do with me. I watch them. Can even enjoy them, but that’s all. Turns out, I needed two “wires” to make the stories live in me, and one of the wires is permanently defunct.

I’m not even attempting to watch the movies we especially loved, the ones that seemed to be made just for us. Without the other electrical “wire” these movies might also prove to be lifeless streams of motion, which would be unbearably sad. And if the movies still hold up, I couldn’t bear the sadness of watching them alone, without him. I’m sure eventually I’ll find the courage to view them again, but not today.

If the missing wire only affected movie watching, I’d chalk it up to one more loss among so many, but the truth is, with his being gone, nothing seems real. It was as if his smile when I told him good news or his commiseration at bad news or his laugh at silly news grounded me, and made everything more vibrant.

I am getting back into the swing of my life, and I’m starting to feel “normal.” Perhaps someday I might even find a way to relight my life despite that missing wire.