A post about mourning
This is only being posted in case it is of help to someone. It has also since been edited to remove some information I thought was too personal—this particular post indicated to me that this wiki-like blog has more readers than I thought (thank you).
I took a walk around the block just now. Here is what I saw: people being led by their dogs and a small child emerging from the supermarket like a diva onto the stage.
I am beginning to notice more of life again. I feel like one of the multitude of creatures that awakens as the river Nile is resurrected. The strange pain that has been afflicting me—bringing me to tears when I don’t expect it, giving me a new physical strength as I find I am suddenly able to return to distance running though am not trained for it—is ceding to other memories, patterns, and sensations.
The person I lost from earthly relations was such a triumphant fighter through the end: becoming increasingly incapacitated through illness, he never let those inconveniences shadow him, but rather became ever stronger and kinder and more receptive to the world around him.
That is the portal through death: the love, the hope, the persistence. Love does not fail; we can grow to be strong enough through our weakness to support it, always.
I had been hanging onto those words for weeks now. I was repeating to others who loved him: don’t despair, the loss of this kind of person cannot be in vain and must leave fruits behind that will testify to the passing of such beauty reflected in a life.
I thought of the times he would provoke people to get them out of their broken-record-of-sadness, or make a joke in hard times.
As I travelled to his family by foot, thinking of this, I saw an overturned boat, multiple kilometers from the river—far above it on a hill, and hoped my friend was now saved from the deluge of problems he stopped in life and did not allow to gush over to those around him. It had rained earlier in the morning, and the fields were releasing steam from the heat of the previous day. I could visibly see some sorts of transformation, but I was still in too much shock for these lessons to reach me.
Today, I thought: enough is enough. I can see I am hurting but I can also see that the calendar of work waits for no man so got a glimpse of something to do with the battle of life.
Also, I had literally ran through the weekend, doing two runs a day even though I had not run in earnest since my injury over two years ago.
Maybe my injury was delayed grief over the first loss of my first closest loved one. But my injury was very real and multiple doctors told me I would never run again, though no single diagnosis corresponded with another.
That first loss was troubling, and also brought me to deeper epistemic waters when I found myself drawn to digital tech. Was I trying to find my loved one? Did his work leave a trace in mine? I consider such questions to be beyond the range of inquiry that I can field. But in the mean time, the pandemic ensued, and it became clear that no discussion of culture would be complete without recognition of the digital (…).
I began to research and renew my earlier knowledge of this area. Meanwhile, my very best friend in the world began to deal with a string of illnesses. Actually, his first—life threatening—incident happened as my my first loved one was becoming sicker and sicker himself. There were additional life details unravelling that made this series of seven years into what we call “character building”.
Then, I got injured myself. One day, I just couldn’t run anymore after reaching about 1/4 into my typical 24km run. I tried again three separate days, but one of my legs just stopped working and was shot through with pain.
I thought the problem was my knee and went to several specialists. Many said I would never run again, some promised to heal me but did not. Some said they did not know if they could heal me but I paid a lot of money to all of them to realize they could not help. By the way, I don’t know if the machine was broken (there were electricians working on the electricity as I was being scanned!), but the MRI was almost painful.
Running had been the way I resolved my battles for years and years. There is something so empowering about running so far that what you cannot even see when you begin your run becomes so small that it disappears—especially when this happens multiple times over the course of a run. I lost my ability to run just before the pandemic. So I lost my ability to deal with stress at a stressful time. Meanwhile, my best friend was dealing with a second and terminal illness like a true champion. How could I have problems alongside such a magnificent person?
He fought through the end. As I write this, I realize that no matter how poorly written this post is, the bolded sentence above is the sentence that needed to be written.
Some people fight in such good faith that you cannot even see their weakness.
I couldn’t access that aspect of him during these immediate weeks since his passing for who knows what reasons. It was today I decided to research grief and found out that everything I had been experiencing was a textbook symptom. It was today I realized how I can try to carry on his legacy.
My biggest problem this last fortnight has been a total lack of concentration—admittedly, I am stalling by writing this post, but I feel that I am moving through this problem today.
What helped move me today through what I feel was a terrible hurdle was Jocko Podcast 347: To Accomplish the Impossible with Nick Lavery.
I have been listening to the Jocko Podcast intermittently since the loss of my first loved one, maybe a bit before. The podcast helped me a great deal this summer, dealing with my best friend’s terminal illness. I mostly listened to it as I began to exercise again. Which I suppose shows that I had already begun to lose strength during the pandemic/terminal illness/personal injury period. But this summer I started to build myself up, and my friend was supportive of my return to exercise.
So there was some structure that had been built to help me through this time of grief, though I fell off the exercise wagon during the shock phase. You may ask: why were you shocked if your friend was dealing with terminal illness? The answer is twofold: he is a fighter and I did not want to lose hope. That was how he had taught me to deal with my first loved one’s last days. My first loved one was also a fighter and a good man. I don’t want to write much about him because I would always prefer for him to talk about himself in his own way.
So as I was listening to Jocko’s guest Nick Lavery today, I was reminded of my lost loved ones, and my best friend, who, for lack of a better term, was very much an embodiment of the warrior mindset. If there was a setback, he would just take it in stride and find ways to overcome it, never even commenting on it, let alone complain about it.
And in some ways I think this made me realize: I can’t let this grief get the best of me. Yes, I was already on that path this morning when I read about what grief and mourning are. I had read C. S. Lewis’ book A Grief Observed after my first loved one passed, but I perhaps did not fully get through my own grief. The fact that I am now weirdly able to run again makes me feel like something had become suppressed as I was dealing with two—back then—potentially imminent deaths at the same time.
I was also losing another part of family that I don’t want to write about here because I hope this loss will turn around—and hope that the deviation has just been temporary. Suffice it to say that I was raised, thankfully, to be a fighter. And despite my recent weakness and injury, I will dare to think that I am still in it for the fight, so to speak. By fight I mean holding the line for goodness to come into this world. That simple wish does require a fighting spirit.
I need to get back in the saddle. That does not mean I am out of mourning. But it means that I have a deep need to not let the sadness get to me; to try to find ways to resume concentration. This requires a totally new connection with the life I am leading. As I experienced yesterday on my 24km run/walk, all roads of thought lead to my friend, and it kept making me cry. There is a Philip Larkin poem (which I cannot find because my FF hardening seems to have broken DDG search) about the space around a person. Only that person can fill that space.
But aside from private moments of pain, I cannot accept that sadness to ruin the architecture of another life, like mine. The point is in being able to in-coroporate the people who have passed into a new architecture. It will require growth—even if one was already deep in the trenches, already hurting, already in deprivation: something more is required. But this is the life-giving step. This is the call to keep getting back up, no matter how many times we get knocked down.
I need to let love’s passing reform me.
I need to get back at it—though again, I think that natural time would extend a little longer (oh, the trappings of culture…)—and see where this mystery will take me, which I certainly won’t find out, or will be delayed from finding, if I stop in pain. Life can bring scars; they can be multiple. But scars can also be mysteries, so I will allow the pain to pierce me as I continue.
As noted in this post, it was the Jocko Podcast that has helped me most to get through a lot of recent pain, but I was also helped by returning to my favorite passages in his Discipline Equals Freedom book. So as to promote it without giving it away, I slightly modified one of my favorite passages that I read in the following recording.
Here is to keeping on keeping on, character buildung (that phrase is an internal joke, cheers to von Humboldt but also surviving survival camps as a child), and not giving up.
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