I was going to call this “Grief is a Snowflake” until I discover there is an excellent book for grieving children called “Grief is Like a Snowflake” by Julia Cook and Anita DuFalla. I am convinced that grieving for a loved one is as unique as a snowflake. Two recent experiences I had reinforce this.
The first was reading Caitlin Dorman’s powerful post on this blog called “Grieving for a Father: other people’s grief.” You can read it by clicking HERE. She speaks eloquently about feeling many of us had after losing a loved one and listening to expressions of sympathy that ring hollow.
The second was more personal. A physician whom I see every year or two lost his wife of forty years. She was only 62 when she died. They had recently celebrated the birth of their first grandchild. His wife was an extraordinary person who had achieved professional acclaim in her field. My first impulse was to reach out to him, mentioning that I lost a wife of twenty-two years when we were both in our forties. Then I realized the insensitivity of this. When my wife died, I had half a life ahead of me (I am a habitual optimist). I had not even begun to think about what my ‘golden years’ would be like. I grieved her loss with intensity because we had grown up together, first meeting when we were still teens. Through my grief, and thanks to words she had said to me right before she died, I could see a fulfilling future ahead. If you’re wondering what she said, it was “find a good woman and have a great life.” These were the last words she ever spoke.
When you are in your sixties as I am now—late sixties for that matter—you focus more on the stretch run of your life, and you want to do it with the partner who you traveled all this way with. To lose someone as this physician did just when you are planning to slow down, take all those trips you talked about, spend more time with the children and grandchildren, is so far different from what I experienced that I would feel like a fool even mentioning my own loss.
Back to the snowflake. Each person’s grief is as unique as snowflakes because it is the an amalgam of all our experiences with that person. The combinations and permutations of a life together no matter how long or short, are infinite, and define the uniqueness of a shared existence molding the grief of its conclusion. Even the mother who loses the potential child within her has had months of sharing a body with that individual, hundreds of thousands of words discussed about the future child, thousands of thoughts and imaginings. This reservoir of shared experience feeds the grief of the mothers of the unborn.
We as a species have been gifted with an imagination, and we can ‘imagine’ what another person’s grief is like, but we can never know it. Everyone’s grief is their own, and unknowable. This brings us right back to the snowflake.