12 weeks, and they have flown by, since I’ve posted here, Kissie. I’ve traced these months with memories so fragile and distinct; so immense and complex that I feel I’m standing at the sea waiting for the words to rush in and write me. So I go to my pen and paper and scratch out my feelings there, or on my walks in the early light, I speak to you, out loud. I say your name, and talk as if you are walking beside me, as we used to. I don’t ever want to stop saying your name — in fact, all your names: formal, informal, married, single, and best of all, your nickname. The name I gave you as a child when I couldn’t say Chrissy.
As time flows, no matter the measure, this blog remains close to my heart. It’s one of my ways to love you now.
Also as time flows, I find that I want more ways to grieve you and remember your life, not less. I notice I get angry and frustrated and impatient when I find these outlets lacking, and people unwilling to mourn and revisit the past. So I seek them out, people unafraid of their own grieving, and those weaving their memories into something worth keeping. Those who did not lose their loved ones but who had to, nonetheless, say goodbye and see them down. When I can’t write, or spend time in the company of these fully alive souls, I find that I must cry it out. It’s cathartic for me, and as honest as it gets when words are of no use.
This resonant piece – Death and families: when ‘normal’ grief can last a lifetime – by a bereaved sibling has some excellent observations on the passage of time and the pervasiveness of death phobia.
“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
This quote is so you. When I read it on your party invitation, it took my breath away. And when you tossed those leaves for joy that early November day, no doubt was left, it was your favored season. You must be that bird – the way you’d flit through golden days with all your brilliant gusto – I seem to sense you more intently now. But it could be that I’m the bird, flying about this home of ours, and in every tree and cloud, seeking you.
“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled, one remains connected to the other person through it.
It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled, and thus helps us preserve – even in pain – the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past, not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This hit me like a ton of bricks when I first read it, about three months after Kissie’s death. I was unfamiliar with the author, a German theologian who died in 1945. His words were a thunderclap, and a resonating voice to the gaping emptiness that overwhelmed me, and that I was unable to articulate. I had read nothing to that point, and little since, that openly advised an enduring connection by the conscious acknowledgement of absence, and the effort to “leave it precisely unfilled.” It was counterintuitive, and yet it made perfect sense. My irreplaceable sister.
In the past fifteen months, I have learned just how hard it is to “leave it precisely unfilled.” Culturally, we do not consider absence a state to be cultivated, with the living or the dead. We’re encouraged from every corner to fill our emptiness with something. Physical, intellectual, and spiritual distractions, compensations, and comforts abound. A philosophy for remaining connected to our deceased loved ones by staying in the presence of their absence is eloquently subversive. So is the idea that the torment of our separation could be transformative.