Grief, who can explain it?
Grief, raw and undefinable, is inexplicably intertwined at times with both heart-wrenching pain and bursts of euphoria. Grief brings moments of utter desolation and then, with the next breath, sweet comfort as a pleasant memory envelops the one in despair.
Well-wishers ask a grieving person if they’re ‘okay,’ and an adequate reply can’t be formed. Sometimes they really are okay, but other times they feel far removed from normalcy.
There is often no particular reason for a grief-stricken person’s state of mind on any given day. I suppose that’s why grieving people resort to seemingly trite replies such as, “grief is a process” while offering a weak smile.
For months I’ve been working quietly through my own grief over the loss of two dear friends — women who influenced my life in ways I didn’t fully realize until they were suddenly gone — but I’ve been unable to adequately express the significance of that loss.
Everything I’ve written, every feeble attempt at explaining my thoughts to Jeremy fell far short of what I wanted to say. As mysterious as grief is, so too was my inability to express myself. I’m rarely at a loss for words.
Then it struck me.
What if grief, married so tightly to the often vivid memory and other times fading recollection of the one lost, is best released while recalling certain moments in time? Can, perhaps, a long-forgotten conversation, laughter or their smile prompt expression that adequately conveys what’s been lost?
I closed my eyes.
It was sunny outside; spring was teasing us. We were trapped in a dusty classroom for our weekly freshman seminar and I was sick, horribly so. But I loved Anya Silver’s class so much I trudged from my dorm room to Willingham Hall anyway.
I didn’t know of Anya’s battle with cancer. I didn’t know she probably shouldn’t be this close to a flu-ridden college kid. She watched wide-eyed as I dashed from the room, hand over my mouth, to the bathroom.
Anya came to find me anyway. Her eyes, her smile, her caring tone said it all. She wasn’t scared to put herself at risk for someone else.
I could go on.
Anya’s depth of character and our shared passion for literature are coupled with nearly every memory I have of my years at Mercer University. Her presence lingers even now when I walk through campus or stand in Willingham.
I’d need only walk upstairs from that musty, two-stall bathroom with creaky, swinging doors to find Carmen behind her desk in the English department. I can hear her quick-spoken, sing-songy voice. She might be giving directions to a lost freshman or fussing at a faculty member. Either way, her Canary Islands’ accent was so unique most folks didn’t mind if she was fussing or complimenting. They just stopped to hear her talk.
Soon we all discovered Carmen wasn’t just ‘talking.’ She had much to say — insight and encouragement that made everyone feel better after interacting with her.
We talked politics, religion, goings-on around campus. Carmen had something useful to say concerning any topic I could think to converse about. She mothered, she pushed — but not too hard. Every student knew what Carmen expected of them, and without fail, we all wanted to meet her standards.
Anya, the beloved professor.
Carmen, the administrative assistant who held everything, and everyone, together.
Cancer took Anya and a car wreck took Carmen not many weeks later, but they’re still here when I close my eyes.
I see Carmen’s bouncing hair and bright smile. I roll a piece of chalk in my hand and think of Anya scribbling furiously on a board much too tall for her.
In my memory they’ll both live on and that legacy is the most fitting tribute I could possibly give to either precious soul.
So don’t mind me … I’ll just sit here and remember awhile. Pull up a chair if you like. I hear memories are meant to be shared.
• Sarah Tarr Gove is news editor of The Blackshear Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.