Memories will always ache, but the pain will fade and our difference will be made

March 13, 2022

Today must still be navigated even with milk running low in the fridge, a looming meeting in the diary that fills the heart with dread and a car with an undiagnosed rattle that might be nothing, or might be more expensive to fix than the car is worth. It seems that whatever the existential crisis that is convulsing the world, we don’t get a free pass on an ordinary life.

When grief strikes, one of the challenges of coping is how the world appears not to notice and carries on as if nothing has happened. Of course, friends are supportive and sympathetic, but the wider world seals us in a sound-proof pain. The shops do not close, the trains still run, the work we had before does not suddenly disappear; and yet we are in a world of hurt and upset, where every memory, smell, photo and plan is tumbled in sadness, regret and tearful, awful helplessness.

When a war, fought only a three-hour flight away, unfurls minute-by-minute in our living-rooms, and accompanies our commute, and frames the tone for our meetings, we have that same sense of emotional dislocation, because we also have all our everyday, inconsequential conversations as well. How can something so terrible be happening in my social-media timeline at the same time as I am upset that I forgot to clean my shoes?

Grief is an unwelcome and uncomfortable companion. It challenges us to carry on doing ordinary things by laying daily obstacles in our way that are awkward to confront, almost impossible to climb over and pointlessly painful at the same time. It pokes us in the chest when we at last find some time to rest; grief looms disapprovingly over our shoulder when are about to laugh, and sucks the joy from a new memory by reminding us of who is not there to remember it too. Grief is a life-long guilt trip where the pain fades but where memories will always ache.

The unimaginable world of there being a war again in Europe, or of living through a global pandemic, was only three years ago. An unimagined world no more; we now collectively grieve the loss of ordinariness for those who are suffering so much. And because it is a kind of grieving the “what now?” and the “what next?” are profoundly unfathomable things to even begin to address.

Grief does not offer answers; that’s not its job. Grief does not lay out a reassuring ten-point plan back to ordinary. There are no grief-hacks.

It must therefore be part of grief that it is ok to agonise over a routine email to your boss and still have quiet tears watching the evening news. It is ok to eat the last biscuit when we know that terrified souls are huddling for warmth in basements to the sound of the thunderous destruction above their heads. Grief does not give us answers, insights or wisdom. It is a just one colossal shitshow of emotional wreckage strewn about our ordinary lives.

Tragically, our hearts are now doomed to ache for Ukraine, but right now there isn’t a way to make sense of anything. Now is not the time for perspective or rational thought; so while millions are displaced and search for a place not to be frightened, it is ok to be cross that the front lawn needs mowing in early March, and that the washing machine does not spin quietly like it used to. This is also living with grief.

We all know that this is far from over, and goodness knows when it will end, but all of us who have grieved also know there will be a day again when we begin to rebuild and we will show ourselves that there is a life beyond grief. We will step forward. We will be proud for the things we achieve and not just for the things we have lost. We will make a difference that puts colour and warmth into the lives of others. We will release ourselves from grief’s crippling grip and make our difference again. We will show the world that it better to be renewed by love and than to be consumed by hate.

Memories will always ache, but the pain will fade and our difference will be made.

Take care. Paul xx

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