I’m a writer. Clearly – we know this. You give me an internet of blank space, and I will fill it with words. I fill it with words on grief and on love, even knowing that inside that, beyond all that, before and inside and beneath all those words, there is only howling.
Many of you have told me that the sounds you made when the one you love died were beyond anything you could have imagined Before. Whether those howls and screams made their way into sound, or whether you held them inside – those cries are the visceral reality of grief. Of shock. Of loss.
It’s almost like any words we put on top of that – even the good words – are always, always at least a step removed from what is true.
We’ve spoken before of the limited, and limiting, nature of words. We try. We may speak eloquently or beautifully. We can gesture to what is true and deep and right. And the reality is that both grief and love live in a place deeper than words.
It’s more than we can say.
I was at a conference recently. A perfectly reasonable conference on death, dying, and grief. A perfectly reasonable conference.
And what I kept thinking was that this isn’t how grief is. Grief is not perfectly reasonable.
Yes, sure, there are things we can do inside of grief. There are practices to help us bear grief, to bear love, to help us be where we are. But where are the places we get to be unreasonable?
Is there anywhere, anyone, any place where the howling, visceral reality of ripped open love and grief and life are, well, let out? Do we all just have to be reasonable?
I remember my own early days – shoving myself out into the world, frazzled hair, sunken cheeks, mismatched clothes, looking for all the world like a homeless woman, babbling on to myself. Trying to keep moving. Doing what was reasonable, expected, ordinary: groceries, dog walks, meeting friends for lunch.
When beside me, inside me, was the howling, shrieking, screaming mass of pain, watching this normal and ordinary person, being reasonable. Ordinary. As though anything was okay. As though I was not living what I lived.
So when I read about grief, when I attend conferences that talk about grief, I think about those early days. I think about being reasonable and how irrelevant it is: talking about grief as though it were an intellectual exercise.
The intelligence that arranges words and dictates stages or steps or reasonable behavior is on a wholly different plane than the heart that is newly smashed open. Where are the conferences that talk about that? What would those even look like? How do we speak to that unspeakable part, that wildness?
That wildness. Crouching in the corners of the reasonable world. Watching as we go about our lives, trying to be normal. Smirking in the background at the perfect erudition of the professor or the author or the neighbor down the street as they describe aseptic and linear grief.
Does wildness have a voice beyond the howling? Can we listen for the words that form inside the unreasonable, the unable-to-reason? Can we find a way to acknowledge what is deep and visceral and real?
I wonder what that would look like. To make space for the wildness, the unreasonable and raw. To greet that un-tame-able place with kindness and love, with ears that are willing to hear what cannot be said.
Maybe language is a bridge. Words that come from the wildness, rooted in that deep un-tame-able place, words that speak to what is there, humming underneath the ordinary surface of life. Words that kick over the suitable, reasonable, erudite world.
Words, those too small tools, those broken syllables, point to the presence of wildness and say – yes. Yes. I see you there. I see you, and I hear your voice.
How about you? What words might point to the deeper realities of love and of loss? Join our growing group of writers exploring that territory in the new session of the Writing Your Grief e-course. Wild, un-tame-able, searching for words: we’d love to have you. Read all about the course here. Enroll by 6/1.