Saying goodbye to a loved one is profoundly affecting and painful, leaving in its wake a mix of emotions that can be difficult to process. Sometimes the sorrow is raw and pure, perhaps debilitating. Sometimes it is punctuated with unresolved tension or regret, born from a complex and now irreparable relationship. Yet other times it is laced with relief that at once alleviates and inflames the emotional burden. Sorrow after loss is a fickle beast indeed; one I prefer to leave securely caged.
Over recent years, I have experienced personal losses, and I have watched friends and family go through their own processes. As a child, I was fortunate to experience very few tragedies, and so in adulthood, the passing of family members brought new lessons about grief. I wondered if it would get easier, saying goodbye to those we love.
For me, the answer has been yes and no. Yes, we can get better at healing (or at least giving the appearance of having healed). We can gain familiarity with the process, coming to expect the seemingly unbearable depths of pain in our future, and having learned from the knowledge that we can in fact bear them. Perhaps we also become able to assimilate back into “normal” life more swiftly. So in these ways, we learn to say goodbye. But no, the process does not become less painful. And in some ways, wounds we thought healed can reemerge with surprising ferocity, tinged with the fresh sting of added pain.
We have a tendency in our society to idealize the memories of those who have passed. I like to write about these happy memories, preserving them, and keeping with them a piece of the departed. But I also like to remember the struggles that were overcome. I like to remember a flawed life, a full and real and relatable one. And in keeping these memories, to remind myself that my sadness for the death, and joy for the life, can coexist and comfort me in my grief.
Top photo by Lauren Shipp