Evidence of grief and loss is all around right now: on the news, in the streets, even in the air millions of us in the Western U.S. are breathing. In my Northern California yard, I wipe ashes off the top of the garbage bins. From my window, every week I watch socially distanced funerals in the cemetery across the street. I can’t take walks, even with a mask on—the air is that unhealthy.
You would think that with so much sorrow all around, I wouldn’t have been drawn to read two essays about grief and loss. And you would have been right, except my husband had passed one on and the title of the second one caught my eye.
The first, “Notes on Grief” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is in the September 10, 2020 New Yorker newsletter here. Adichie, the acclaimed author of Americanah, writes of her shock and grief at the unexpected death of her beloved father. There are two sentences of Adichie’s account I can’t get out of my mind. One begins: “I am filled with disbelieving astonishment that the mailman comes as usual….” The other: “For the rest of my life, I will live with my hands outstretched for things that are never there.” Neither of my parents died unexpectedly but I know exactly the emotions she is describing.
The second piece, by Eviana Hartman in the current issue of Departures Magazine* is called “Happiness.” Hartman, recently widowed and the mother of a two-year-old, refers a phenomenon known as “post-traumatic growth (PTG),” which she describes as “following a life-altering event, after an initial period of shock and struggle. Those who experience PTG go on to exhibit improved relationships and life appreciation, as well as a newfound sense of meaning and spiritual connection. They don’t just recover, they’re psychologically transformed—and in some ways, they might be happier than the rest of us.” I have seen this occur with close friends who have experienced great losses. It has been both a surprise and a comfort to see. And now I learn that this experience has a name–and even initials! Perhaps when we get through this dark period, instead of looking back to what we have lost, we will all be able to appreciate much more what have to gain.
HAVE A GOOD WEEK!
*I can’t link to this article in Departures magazine, which mysteriously appears quarterly, without subscription, in my mailbox.