Death is like sex. It’s something everyone does, but you hardly ever see it, and no one talks much about it--not publicly any ways. Death, like sex, is raw. It demands that you give it its due. ~Colleen, The Jim and Dan Stories.
My poet friend, Mara, who I share a grief bond with and often play Scrabble with is in LOVE! When we played Scrabble last weekend, she was not only on the phone with her lover half a dozen times during our game, but she was playing Scrabble with her online…in-between turns.
Two-timer! I shouted across the table.
Three of us played that day, and when it wasn’t Mara’s turn, or she wasn’t on the phone, or playing online scrabble with her girlfriend, we talked about the paper she is writing for school, “Physical Symptoms of the Early Stages of Love and Grief: Exploring the Connections and Correlations.” Mara, who lost her husband a couple of weeks before my brother Jim died, can speak from experience on both.
Her paper begins: The initial reaction is disbelief. How could there be a connection between love and grief? One is positive, the other is negative – at least that is the common misperception. When some of the physical manifestations are examined, however it’s startling how similar the symptoms are. They mirror each other: mind, emotion, and most especially body. Loss of appetite. “Butterflies” in your stomach. Sleeplessness. The world becoming strange and surreal. Grief and love are different only so much as our perception changes them. They both change us inexplicably, often affecting our entire manner of viewing the world…
Besides the obvious similar physical symptoms of falling in love and losing someone you love, both are experienced with a wide open heart and both are tied up in longing. Does the body know the difference between tears shed for joy or for grief? And what about bittersweet tears that blur the lines of emotion, such as those brought about when in the presence of something painfully beautiful, feeling proud of your child when he leaves home, or being so deeply touched during lovemaking that you come undone.
Mara asks two good questions: Why do we continually strive towards love, not simply love of family, work, purity, but the eternally complicated conundrum of being “in love,” which tortures far often than it satisfies?
And… Why do we avoid grief with such a dogged passion? Why do we try to protect ourselves and those we love from the very realities of death? Often mourning provides similar heights of joy and clarity to the struggle and pain love can give.
Being with my brother Danny when he died was a gift, while at the same time it was a trauma. Even so, I look back on the last two weeks of his life that I spent with him in the hospital with such fondness. Every day I was excited to see him, knowing in the back of my mind that it might be the last time I could. With a heightened sense of awareness, I lost myself in caring for him. I saw only him and thought of only him, and when he was gone, I missed that one pointed focus. Maybe the experiences of love and grief are so related because with both you forget self, with both the illusion of separation falls away, and you are one with another human being.
Ultimately, what is grief, but an expression of love? The more love felt, the deeper the grief.
Note: Originally posted on looseleafnotes.com on November 18, 2005