There’s a book called Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. That title has raised its head a lot in my own head lately. I haven’t read the book itself but this title prompted a few discussions (in the chatterbox that is my mind) about this symbolism. Why feathers? Why would someone portray grief so elegantly? And so on. While I might not be necessarily right to judge it before I’ve even read the thing I have to say I disagree. Grief is not the thing with feathers; grief is the thing with scales.
I’ve been quiet on here for quite a while now as I left the UK for my dad and I’s American road trip at the end of March, which was an experience in itself. But sadly towards the tail end of the two weeks, I received some awful news about my best friend, my oldest friend, back home. It’s taken me so long to even come back to the keyboard let alone write about this, but I feel like I must acknowledge her and her life before I can go on writing as normal again. It would be a disservice to her, to you, Emma, to carry on in life and to continue writing here as if nothing has happened, as if nothing has changed in my life, in all our lives who knew you. Alas, I received a devastating phone call a few months ago confirming in my gut what I knew had happened when I saw the text no one ever wants to see from someone’s partner: “Please can you call me when you get this.”
I am not writing this for any kind of validation, self-gratification or to make art out of someone’s life for the sake of a piece of writing. Writing, for me, is the best way I can express myself and in this context, process. I feel that translating my grief into this form of expression is a way that I can keep the memory and spirit of Emma as alive as possible. There is nothing that I want to gain here other than perhaps some processing, some understanding by way of written expression, so I hope that comes across. And for me it feels more alien to not talk about this at all and go on as if life has been undisturbed by this great, great loss.
At the time I was in Napa Valley staying on a vineyard, shaking quite violently from the shock after the phone call. It was early in the morning and as I hung up, a big hare appeared in front of me, unbothered by my presence. It simply hopped across the sandy floor and through the grape plantations and disappeared. While historically I have leaned too much on things like serendipity, ‘signs’, symbolisms and all that in an attempt to make sense of the world, I couldn’t help but feel like this really was a sign. After coming home I realised that maybe it was; since her passing, I keep seeing rabbits in the most random places after thinking of her. Driving past her childhood home in the village in which we grew up, there was a baby rabbit in the middle of the road outside the hedge where we used to make a den and have tea parties. I stopped the car and jumped out seeing it was completely blind. I tried to usher it into the hedges and did my best before I had to move on. There have been many instances like that, nice soft reminders that she is still here. A nudge from her to say ‘Hello, I’m doing ok!’. But sadly, grief isn’t always this soft and gentle.
The reason I say grief is the thing with scales is because it is one of many things akin to a snake: it feels calculated, cold, stealthy, venomous, paralysing, sharp, startling and I could go on. The most potent thing I have found from that list is the stealth. Some days you will wake up and feel nothing but heavy, unable to move, unable to function. This is expected, this feels normal. But it’s the days when you feel like you may actually be able to feel like yourself again, when you can think of them with warm feelings and nostalgia that replaces the pain, when you feel like you are making progress, until the grief attacks you blind and sinks its teeth into you, emotionally paralysing you at the most random moments of the day. You’ll be hit with a certain memory, being in a certain place, seeing a certain person, hearing a certain song, smelling a certain perfume, finding a certain photograph or postcard, or even just being somewhere beautiful and still, and the grief will come for you mercilessly. Those moments are the hardest. You’re dragged back to the very first feeling of being shattered by the reality of the news and you’re just emotionally exhausted all over again.
There’s no timeline for grief. There’s certainly no handbook for it. And it’s definitely not what you expect it to be. Grief is not the linear process that would seem logical for humans; something happens, we feel, we move on. Grief is the furthest thing from linear or logical. While people around you who perhaps weren’t as close or didn’t know them as well (seemingly) move on and go on with life, for those who were closer, it feels like it will never go away. And I’m trying to see the beauty in that; there are so many things written about the beauty of grief which I’m not yet able to understand. All I know is that there is a hole in my heart. I know deeply Emma hasn’t gone though her physical form may not be here, I know that our 24 year friendship will always be my oldest one even though I may have older ones yet in my life as I age. I know that nothing can erase the imprint of her life in my memory despite her absence. And I know that somehow in a way that is beautiful, but I just can’t see that right now. I could say I am lost for words but words are all I have to try and make sense of one of the biggest losses in anyone’s life who knew her beautiful soul.
Time is a complex concept. It ceases to exist when you lose one of the most special people in your life, especially in the tragic, devastating way Emma left us. It ceases to exist in the form of a future, the present, the past: it stops mattering entirely. So many things lose gravitas. Alas, I think we all have to find our own unique ways in comprehending, processing and feeling it all as painful as it is. To do the opposite, to go on as if it never happened, is simply not an option.
I’m sure one day I’ll be able to come back here and reflect on one our thousands of memories, but I felt I had to do this first. I may well be able to function and write regularly again as I had been doing, but that just doesn’t matter right now – this is not about me. This is an acknowledgment, a way of paying respects to you, Emma (sometimes I can’t stand writing about you in the third person, because you’re here, around us, you’re everywhere). As difficult as it is to write and read this, it would be more difficult to go on as if life has not been shattered by losing you.
If you’ve got this far, thank you. Em, if you’re around (and I know you are), I love you. So much.