Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Grace of Grief

One wouldn't expect to find any beauty in grief. It can appear an unrelentingly dark place; the loneliness and isolation, the shock, the sadness, the despair, the anger, the guilt, the fear, the exhaustion, the hysteria, the uncertainty and insecurity, the lethargy, the restlessness, the jealousy, the bewilderment. Its numbing and soul destroying. Never have I felt more dead. And yet paradoxically rarely have I felt more alive. 

When it is not dulled and anaesthetised by numbness grief brings with it a startling intensity of emotion. We are stripped raw, reduced to a childlike state of vulnerability and need. Unable any longer to process thought as the rational adult we are accustomed to believing ourselves to be we instinctively fall back on a much more primitive response to the position we find ourselves in. We feel rather than think. And while much of what we feel is desperate, dark and destructive, this heightened level of stimulation also allows us access to a range of positive emotional responses and a relationship with the world around us which is more powerful and pure than anything I have previously encountered. While I have lost my ability to connect with or care about much which I previously thought to be important, the trivialities, preoccupations and stresses of day to day life, I find myself blessed with an enhanced awareness of genuine and meaningful beauty, a stronger empathy for others, a more acute appreciation of the value of life and, above all, a depth of love for Louise which for all the pain it now brings is a privilege to experience.

Grief is not only the price of love. It is its ultimate manifestation. I have noted before that Louise's death has seen me fall in love with her all over again. Or rather, since we never fell out of love in the first place, it has taken what already existed, what I already thought was special, to new levels of intensity. Its only now that I can fully appreciate, through its absence, exactly how much Louise gave to me, what her presence meant to me and the difference she made to the world around us.  This realisation, coupled with the heart rending knowledge that it is all lost, has nurtured a love of startling purity. Of such purity in fact that it can almost only exist within the space which bereavement creates. For all Louise's remarkable inner beauty it would be impossible to sustain for any length of time should  it be actually tested by the reality and familiarity of her living presence. And while the depth of the love is true and enduring its urgency is simply exhausting.  Of course the strength of this emotion makes the hurt and loss even more painful to endure, but now that I am a little way into this journey I can see that it also provides comfort and a sense of pride and gratitude to have the opportunity to feel so deeply for somebody so special.

This new understanding of the potential of love extends beyond Louise. I find my capacity to appreciate and celebrate the very existence of love, the gift it gives to others, has also been greatly enhanced. Not, it must be said, that this is easy when I am confronted by couples enjoying what I once had. But beneath the jealousy, the desire to run away as fast as possible to protect myself from more hurt, I can still find myself celebrating the perfect beauty of the love they enjoy in a way that I wouldn't have done prior to Louise's death. This is all the more the case when I read tales of new love shared by the extraordinarily resilient and compassionate on-line community of widows and widowers to which I now belong. My biggest breakdown in recent days came when I was touched to the core by the moving symbolism of a photo shared within that same community which showed the new bride of a widower laying flowers on the grave of his late wife on their wedding day. 

I have also discovered that having been in the darkest of places myself my capacity to identify with and understand the suffering of others has been enhanced. I know what it is like to experience the worst life can throw at you and I find my heart going out more and more frequently to those who are vulnerable and in need of support. It would be a fitting legacy for Louise if I subsequently prove strong enough be able to harness this compassion and empathy into constructive action, even as the rawness of loss and grief fades

And if the emotion engendered by grief can heighten our appreciation of the beauty of people and relationships, the experience can do the same for  the way we relate to life. Now that the fragility and transience of existence has been crushingly brought home to me I have a more urgent need to live life now, not to wait, because nobody can know what tomorrow might bring. I am impatient to feel sufficiently rested and emotionally strong enough to begin to re-engage with the job of living. 

Part of this sense of life is a new found awareness and appreciation of nature, of the simple beauty which Louise can no longer enjoy. I now understand its true meaning and worth. I realise that it is a privilege and not an automatic right to be in  a position to experience such things and must not squander the opportunity that I have to do so. For the first time in my life I find myself stopping to admire flowers, to listen to the birds singing, to touch the bark of a tree for the sheer sensory pleasure. These are things that Louise found joy in and in my desire to see the world through her  eyes I find that I have the capacity to appreciate what I previously couldn't. I only wish that I had benefited from this wisdom and insight during her life so that I could more fully have joined her in this appreciation

It is, of course, wrong to romanticise. There is no nobility in widowhood or grief. It is not a state that anybody would choose and in many respects it can make us very unattractive; withdrawn, pre-occupied, angry, jealous. But in her perpetual search for spiritual enlightenment Louise used to talk about the power and gift of grace. I always struggled to understand the concept, unable to pin down this mysterious state. But since she died I have come to appreciate that with her generosity, wisdom, selflessness, bravery and compassion, Louise was the epitome of grace and I like to think that in some small way the heightened sense of love, empathy and appreciation of beauty which I now experience is her gift of grace to me.


  1. Maybe one day I will see the beauty as well. Right now all I see is the darkness. Keep writing. It's good to see the perspective of others.

    1. Jenn, I don't mean to exaggerate or romanticise. The beauty is well hidden but having found it I have to try and hold on to it and polish it for all it is worth. I very much hope that you manage to find some light through a break in the darkness very soon.