Love, Death, and Other Real Things

I think again about the episode of Louie where he’s in love with this woman who’s moved halfway across the world and his shitty doctor meets him outside and says, look at you, in your grief. You’re a walking poem.

Am I a walking poem? Sometimes I do feel poetic. And other times I think of that song by Mount Eerie. Death is real. Someone’s there and then they’re not. And it’s not for singing about. It’s not for making into art. When real death enters the house all poetry is dumb. In the days following the loss it seemed no other songwriter understood like Phil Elverum. Other writers write painful, poignant, beautifully orchestrated and cerebral songs from the heart as they begin to process their loss. He wrote a primal scream of gut-wrenching agony and I respect that more than I can say. The world needed that song. I needed it. I haven’t found anything else quite like it.

Do my turns of phrases bring me to insight or distract me from the pain I need to forge myself into something new and beautiful? And why does losing someone have to be a growth journey at all? This isn’t my epic adventure. It’s his life taken from him and from all of us. It shouldn’t have been. Elverum finishes the song by saying, I don’t want to learn anything from this. I think most of us know what he means. Even if we haven’t lost the life someone who meant the world to us, I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way over a breakup.

The double-edged sword of growth is that the more I improve the more I’ll be able to look back and see things I could have done better. I’m not exactly sure how to deal with this, but I’m hoping the pastor who has taken on my atheist self as a therapy client will help me figure it out. Still, I’m not sure there’s much to figure out. Joe is dead. He’s not coming back. I have to live the rest of my life knowing this. These two facts are immutable. My only options are to be happy or to be miserable, and the latter isn’t bearable so I have to pick the former. I greatly resent that I haven’t been given any more of a choice than that, but there isn’t anything I can do.

Esther Perel’s parents were both the sole Holocaust survivors in their respective families, and Perel talks about how some survivors withered and some made a commitment to joy— I’m still here on earth so I’m here to party. Her parents were in that second category, which I always admired. I was never sure I could have done the same, but now I feel it may have been more a necessity than a choice. Maybe, rather than deciding to be happy, they simply realized that being unhappy was not an option— a life of darkness and desperation was unthinkable and, staring down the barrel of such an existence they realized laughter and love was the only choice. Maybe the miserable people were the stronger ones in a way. They carried the whole weight of their losses for a lifetime.

Stephanie, sister of Harris Wittels, a TV writer who died of an overdose, said that getting over grief is like kneeling in rubble, clothes stained and tattered, until you just can’t anymore and you have to stand. I kept that filed away in my mind for future reference. It does make sense.

Although, it’s not a solo journey. Nothing in life is, I think. Lately I feel more like I’ve been lying in rubble, calling for my friends, family, new therapist, begging them to pick me up. And they have. Grief makes some withdraw and hide. It’s turned me into a social animal, which I’ve read isn’t uncommon either. I don’t want that to change. I never again want to pretend that I’m okay without my people.

They say you never get over grief. I’m not sure how to feel about that. They also say you become happy again, but they maintain your never get over it, which doesn’t sound exactly like happiness to me, but of course, neither does the idea of getting over it. Anne Lamott frequently reminds us all truth is paradox.

I once told a therapist that if Joe died I’d never be the same again and she dismissed me, saying people get over these things. I protested and she apologized, but some of that idea stuck in my heart and I regret believing any piece of it at all. I regret believing anyone who minimized the significance of his life or the amputation of our separation, who referred to the pulling apart of our hearts as good and right and “healthy.” I think healthy is a synonym for clean and uncomplicated.

Therapy-healthy relationships do not actually exist, nor would I want them to. Real relationships are often messy, convoluted, loving, hating, twisting, helping, hurting, and hard. They are meant to be vibrant and alive. They are the most important thing in the world. I regret listening to anyone who told me otherwise. I regret listening to anyone who said or implied I could not continue actively loving someone in active addiction. Who told me it was too complicated because we were exes. Who encouraged me to harden my heart.

When someone dies of cancer everyone crowds around to hold their hand and brush back their hair and kiss them and say goodbye. He deserved at least that, and so much more.

Now I’m left with all this love and no one to give it to, except everyone.