Portraying Grief Correctly

So often writers get grief over the loss of a spouse wrong, perhaps because unless you have been there, you cannot know the global effect grief has. There are so many mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, even geographical changes thrown at you that it’s almost impossible to understand what is happening.

Grief that has matured, meaning grief that is no longer new and raw, is easier to portray, but even that is often done wrong, since the characters seem to have no yearnings. And grief is so much about yearnings.

One movie that portrayed long time grief well was The Last Dance with Maureen O’Hara and Eric Stolz. O’Hara teared up when she thought of her husband, she treasured the records she had bought of the songs they had danced to (calling them her “memories”), but most of all, she yearned for one last dance from him. And that yearning made her grief real. We who have lost our mates eventually come to terms with going on alone, but we all have yearnings for one last kiss, one last hug, one last smile, one last word. Such simple things, but being deprived of them underscores our loss.

Another example of grief done right occurred in the old television show Golden Girls, of all places. In that particular episode, Blanche dreams that her husband, dead for nine years, comes home. This is a recurring dream, but instead of bringing her sadness as always, this time the dream brings her peace because in the dream, she got to hug him one last time.

Even though I am doing well two years and four months after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I still yearn for one last smile from him, one last hug, one last visit with him at his store where we met. It seems impossible these yearnings will go unfulfilled for the rest of my life. Like Maureen O’Hara’s character, though, I have my “memories” but in my case they are not shared songs but movies he taped. I’ve been going through his movies, weeding out the ones I will never watch again, and each movie I am keeping makes me remember a conversation we had about the movie, a particular time we watched them, a feeling I once had when he watched the movie with me.

Many of the movies he taped toward the end of his life, like The Last Dance, are about people going on alone after the death of a mate. It almost seems as if he is/was trying to help me find my way through the horror to a new peace. Some of these movies, again like The Last Dance, he edited to take out the parts he didn’t like. So not only do I have movies he taped, I have versions no one else in the entire world has. For example, he edited out all the flashbacks in The Last Dance, so I never see Maureen O’Hara’s young husband. I only know him through her love, her tears, her feelings about the possessions she is getting rid of in preparation for her own death, and in the stories she tells Eric Stolz and his family. This makes for a stronger story, keeping it all in the present, and it makes the relationship between O’Hara and Stolz more compelling.

But more than that, it makes it my story, a story about a woman yearning for one last moment with the man she loved.