Fix me

Grief is supposed to go away. It’s supposed to have a time limit. It is supposed to get better. And there are normal responses to grief, and carefully graded measurements for how much grief you should feel based on how well you knew someone, for how long, and how closely related you are.

The above paragraph, of course, is nonsense. But it’s surprisingly pervasive nonsense. It’s built into our systems. We have periods of mourning, carefully calibrated by relationship. My last employer specified 3 days off for the death of a close family member. Nothing else. No leave built into the system for attending the funeral of a friend, or a parent or child of a friend. Of course attending funerals was tacitly allowed, but there was no provision in the leave statutes for it.

3 days of grief for a close family member before returning to work is, of course, ludicrous. But so is no time off for a close friend. Or any friend, for that matter.

Because there are no rules about how death will affect you. I knew Jacky for less than a year, but I talked with her nearly every day, and she was hugely important to me. Can you measure that? Can you argue I should feel less because of the newness of our friendship? Or because after those first few days our relationship was exclusively online, which many people will tell you is not a real friendship.

Hey, there’s not a cloud in the sky
It’s as blue as your goodbye
And I thought that it would rain, on a day like today.

Wendy Mathews, The Day You Went Away

Yet I reached out to Jacky when things were tough at work. When I was worried about my kids. When I was proud of my kids. When they were driving me nuts. When I felt inadequate. When I felt excited. When I saw something I knew she’d love. Walking around San Francisco in November I shared all the gay from the unbearably fabulous Castro. We shared book and film recommendations. We shared my kids. We shared dreams for the future.

Jacky’s death blindsided me. On the weekend I decided maybe I needed counselling – which has helped me many times, in remarkable ways – but then I realised I was trying to fix it. I wanted to get over it. I want to stem the tears, stop the pain, to fill the hole. Maybe counselling would help, but it wouldn’t make it go away.

Grief doesn’t go away. It is woven into the fabric of who we are. Of our relationships. Of our lives. It’s in the sound of a passing motorbike. In the colours of a rainbow. In a snatch of music or a scene from a movie. It’s in a moment we should have shared. In a trip we were meant to take together. In an achievement she’d have loved. In a book that would have made her at least as angry as it’s making me.

So sometimes there’s nothing for it but to listen to the sad playlist and hug your friends. To hold your face up to the sun and feel the tears of rain, even though there’s not a cloud in the sky. Sometimes you just have to cry. And it hurts more than it feels like it should, but there is no “should” in grief. There’s only your broken heart.