I listened to Ann Tyler talk about her new book on NPR this morning. Some of the plot is the result of the emotional processing she has done since losing her husband fifteen years ago.
Tyler recalled her feelings around the loss, saying, "The thought that came to me was: 'I just don't understand. Where did he go?' He was this exuberant man who was a real enjoyer. And that's just gone without a trace. It's just not possible."
I considered my own exuberant SG, and thought about how quiet and how much more bland life is when he is not here. I tried to imagine how it might feel if he were never going to be here again and failed. Put in the context of my brother's death, though, I think I understand.
I think love is a feeling but it is also a physical thing, a set of behaviors and actions. Its both organic and contrived, innate and created. I consider the love that I feel for my children, for my parents and other family members. It is embedded in my bones, that love. I've loved my parents and trusted them for my whole life. The love I have for them is one of the cornerstones in the foundation of everything I've ever done and everyone I've ever been. Loving my children came as naturally as breathing. And when I think of them, shape their names in my mouth and picture their precious faces in my mind, a bubble of feeling that is too large to fit inside me wells up inside. That feeling is love and joy and pain and worry and warmth. Its the sum of all we've experienced together, all I hope and dream, all I fear.
Love seems a complicated tangle of physical sensation, emotional turbulence, concrete action and wishful dreams. But what do you do with love when the person you love is gone?
SG isn't here, but he's still here. So I love him but I try not to think about how much I love him because it makes his everyday absence too uncomfortable. I try not to think about how much I miss his touch and his physical energy. I'm filled with love and pain, all tangled up and constantly needing to have the ends sorted out and tied up into a manageable knot. That pain, though, is somewhat tolerable because the separation is finite. He is coming home eventually, he's not gone forever.
For the brother I've lost, though, what do I do with that love? Its still there, full of hope and fear and memories. I still had things to say, hugs to give. I ache for wanting to hear the sound of his voice. The enormity of what sits bottled up inside of me begging to be expressed, but without the human target of that expression, creates a feeling of pressure in my chest that is actually physically painful. What do you do with all of that love you have for someone when they will never be here again to receive it?
Its not just the spirit of my brother that I loved, but the physical reality of him: His face, his eyes and smile, his unique nose and the shape of his hands; the voice that I could recognize instantly over the phone line that evoked the image of his face in my mind. The human expression of all that he was shaped his physical presence and created the ability for us to relate to one another, to bond as family over meals and stories and shared experience. The love my brother and I had for one another was reciprocal, had shape and meaning, helped to create the person that I am today.
And now he is gone, and the love we had for one another, what happens to that? I don't know where to put it, I don't know how to properly express it. What does it mean to the concept of "relationship" when one of the people in the relationship is gone to a place that we cannot go and cannot yet understand?
I see my children in one of those rare moments when they put their childhood fighting aside and I realize just how very close they are, and try to imagine one of them without the other and my heart crumbles into dust.
I have so many questions and so many feelings. As yet I lack the understanding that I suppose will only come with time. Just as love has a shape and a physical sensation, so I now understand, does bereavement.
Am I supposed to be over it already? I hope not, because if grief is finite, I'm doing it wrong. If grief is uncomplicated, I'm failing miserably. My grief has a slippery volume knob, it won't settle at any one point on the dial. Sometimes I can't hear it, and then some event or memory jostles the knob and it becomes so loud I can't bear to listen to it. It goes quiet now for days at a time. I sometimes even manage to forget about it to the point of no longer remembering that he's gone. And I think of some future event and I imagine everyone who will be there, naturally including him...and the air is sucked out of my lungs as I realize thatwill never again be my reality. Our reality.