Assembly was in the National Language today and for bits of it, I tried to understand—from time to time, I miss something important when I don’t pay attention enough to at least know when there is something I need to know and don’t. Mostly, my mind wandered. I watched the students to make sure they were behaving and I watched the puppies that had come to play.
Something clicked in then for me. Death is a stop. It means something ceases to change or to grow anymore. What was becomes permanent. However it doesn’t erase it. Your perspective on it continues to change, that’s true. But the fact of it never changes. Only your view can evolve. In that way, it is like a story you have gotten to the end of. The story is over and you can go back and re-read the story, but there is never any “what happens next.” There is no next. It is over.
The loss a death creates is so much the loss of that “next.”
I didn’t understand death when Natalya died and I’m still working out what it means. That ending is part of it.
There was the loss of the physical aspect of her existence—her smile, her hugs, her voice, the immediate, instinctive comfort she gave me. And there was the loss of “next.”
At the time, it felt that what had already happened was also lost, because I was the only one who could remember her anymore, and I was coping by trying not to remember.
I also did not feel I had permission to remember. One must move on. One must “let go.” One must live in the present and not the past. These messages were so omnipresent and compelling that I felt I had no right to remember and no right to my unique experiences. It seemed the only thing the past can do is make you miserable, and the main work is to notice that the present is not the past.
But people who talk about the now still want chicken soup when they are sick, because that is what they were given as children (maybe). They still have cake on their birthdays because that was what they always did. People take the good bits of the past for granted and try to excise the bits of it that are causing them pain. They don’t really mean let go of it all. Just the parts of it you don’t want. Which seems silly.
In any case, they are fighting biology. You never win that way. Our brains are meant to notice the present, imagine the future, and be reminded of the past all in a seamless, ongoing way. What we need to do is regulate better, not “let go.” “Letting go” is a losing battle.
Anyway, I ended up excising everything. In doing that, I became unable to move through the process of grieving.
When Natalya died I lost my connection to the best parts of my past. I lost the person I shared an important history with: both most of the worst parts and the best parts. I lost the person who knew best who I was.
One thing I’m understanding about loss is there are things you don’t get again. Some things you get other chances at and some things you don’t. No one else will know from experience what I was really like at 5 or 7 or 10 or even 13. No one else was there for so the main parts of it, and what they saw of the rest of it was either distorted by their own problems or flattened by my own refusal to share what I really felt and thought.
So that connection is gone.
I can tell someone based on what I remember and they can try to imagine, but no one will ever know without my telling them. No one will ever know things that I have forgotten about myself from those years. There is no longer anyone who was there who can decipher my incomplete memories because they know more about it than I do. Only I know who I was.
After she died, the loss of that connection translated into a sense of unease I could not describe or name. It was as though I could never feel “normal” or comfortable—not exactly anxious, but just strange, as if I were in the wrong country or the wrong house, the wrong something.
And it’s a loss. I can name that now. I can describe it.
It hurts, but that’s not the main thing, it turns out. The main thing is that it exists, that I know it there. I understand its cause and in that way I know myself. I know I am there also. It is my experience, and my experience is real, even if it is not always very pleasant.