November 18, 2019

The Unexpected Comforts of Grief

“I am no Pollyanna. But I want to say something about grief, and it is this. Grief is an acute state of awareness in which the fragility of the world reveals itself. And so does kindness. The hypervigilance of being near someone who is dying makes one more viscerally attuned to all the small, insignificant connective tissues.

Someone who chats to you in a bookshop, the person who runs after a pushchair when a child has dropped a toy, the simple reassurances of medical staff, the silliness of old, old friends. The giving up of a seat on a bus, the small talk about the never-ending rain at a station. A friend dropping in to give me some very good cheese and not needing to chat.

One grasps at these encounters as the very stuff of being. One may try to work out what it all means and why, and others will doubtless tell you, but it is the people who don’t tell you who one finds comfort with. For they turn out to be most people who have lost someone dear and know straightforwardly that loss is not filled by explanations of personal philosophy or drippy metaphysics. Loss is merely helped by the presence of others and the lighting of candles and the replaying of music and anything else that gets one through the day, never mind the night.

We are cautious around the bereaved, as though pain is contagious, as though keeping a distance will make the loss smaller. Yet again, I find the opposite to be true – the nearness of things, the nearness of others, is really all that matters for now. We move from numbness to the littleness of the everyday, knowing that this is life going on, that no grand gestures are needed, that compassion is in a nod, a wave, a smile, all the gentle tokens. I count my blessings.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"The top brass of China’s Communist Party (CCP) – its 370-strong Central Committee – recently emerged from the Fourth Plenum of the 2017 Party Congress. Such meetings, usually one a year, are key forums for policy discussion. At the previous..."

"Mayor Pete is having his moment — for the second time in the campaign. Surging to the head of the pack in a recent Iowa poll, and edging out Vice President Joe Biden in last quarter's money race, Buttigieg is staking his claim to being the..."

"careful reading of Walden; or, Life in the Woods makes it clear that Thoreau never intended his cabin to be a solitary hermitage, although fans and detractors alike often misunderstand this. It was more an author’s workshop than a fortress of..."

"In the fall of 2015, a rash of posters appeared around Copenhagen. One, in pink letters laid over an image of chicken eggs, asked, “Have you counted your eggs today?” A second — a blue-tinted close-up of human sperm — inquired, “Do they swim too..."

"While there’s plenty of disagreement about how the money should be used, almost everyone involved in public-policy debates agrees that it would be good if the federal government could collect more revenue without raising tax rates or reducing..."

"On a brisk November night, a solitary man wandered around the plaza outside the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts on the edge of downtown. He had just flown alone from New York to see his favorite comic, Louis C.K., and he had an extra..."

"Judaism has been described as many things: a culture, a people, a religion, a nationality, and more (including, according to answers given to the 2013 Pew survey of American Jews, a culinary disposition for bagels and smoked salmon or the..."

"US sex education is decades behind other countries. Right now, it isn’t even mandatory in every state. Add to that the awkwardness people feel about sex and bodies in general, top it with the idea of having to have these discussions in public..."