Everyone was eating, talking softly, glancing at me, hugging me, eating. It was as if someone had turned the volume down. Everything looked normal, but the sound was muted. Death did this, set all this weirdness in motion, made people appear out of nowhere carrying casseroles, saying ‘I’m sorry’ over and over, death muffled their voices.
Without thinking, I knelt in the grass, like someone meaning to pray.
When I tried to stand again, I couldn’t move,
my legs were utterly rigid. Does grief change you like that?
Through the birches, I could see the pond.
The sun was cutting small white holes in the water.
I got up finally; I walked down to the pond.
I stood there, brushing the grass from my skirt, watching myself,
like a girl after her first lover
turning slowly at the bathroom mirror, naked, looking for a sign.
But nakedness in women is always a pose.
I was not transfigured. I would never be free.
But what was there to say?
Only that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons. Only that there was a snuffling in the hollows at the base of a lovely throat. Only that a hard honey-colored shoulder had a semicircle of teethmarks on it. Only that they held each other close, long after it was over. Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.
Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.
When Rosencrantz asks Hamlet, Good my lord, what is your cause of distemper? You do surely bar the door upon your own liberty, if you deny your grief to your friends(III, ii, 844-846), Hamlet responds, Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me. (III,ii, 371-380)
There should be a statute of limitation on grief. A rulebook that says it is all right to wake up crying, but only for a month. That after 42 days you will no longer turn with your heart racing, certain you have heard her call out your name. That there will be no fine imposed if you feel the need to clean out her desk; take down her artwork from the refrigerator; turn over a school portrait as you pass – if only because it cuts you fresh again to see it. That it’s okay to measure the time she has been gone, the way we once measured her birthdays.
[Philip’s death was] beyond comparison the most afflicting of my life…. He was truly a fine youth. But why should I repine? It was the will of heaven and he is now out of the reach of the seductions and calamities of a world full of folly, full of vice, full of danger, of least value in proportion as it is best known. I firmly trust also that he has safely reached the haven of eternal repose and felicity. (Alexander Hamilton letter to Benjamin Rush about the death of his 19-year old son from mortal wounds inflicted from a duel.)
(on grief) And you do come out of it, that’s true. After a year, after five. But you don’t come out of it like a train coming out of a tunnel, bursting through the downs into sunshine and that swift, rattling descent to the Channel; you come out of it as a gull comes out of an oil-slick. You are tarred and feathered for life.