The Heft of Grief

Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings. ~Elisabeth Kübler Ross

One of the words you frequently when you read about grief, is the adjective heavy. It’s made me think quite a bit about how we explain a complex emotion that is both physical and emotional. This week I finished the best book I’ve found about the topic of grief, and it’s not just about the sudden loss of this woman’s father, she also writes about her relationship with a hawk, and her study of T. H. White. It’s a story about a woman who isolates herself during a hard time while she communes with nature and spends a lot of time reading.

Here is my favorite passage in H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald:

There is a time in life you expect the world to be always full of new things and then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow, and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of space where the memories are (17).

I love this passage not because it’s beautifully written–it’s the way she makes a feeling tangible. An emotion–a loss–takes up space. It become a noun. It becomes a thing with heft. Heavy.

It’s not just my personal loss that has me on this subject, it’s this life we’re living in the pandemic. The weight of the affective labor to pretend like everything is okay. Maybe it’s to perform a job during the week. Maybe it’s the face you put on for those on the other side of the screen. Maybe it’s words you say to support those who need you. This life we live during this time of unprecedented loss and uncertainty. It’s a lot.


Something else.

This week I checked out about a dozen art books from the public library. Well, really, I picked them up at curb-side. I want to learn more about watercolor paintings. Still. This thread is with me everyday. I need to turn pages as a break from the screen.

One of the books had an old photo of the AIDS Memorial quilt–something I have not thought about in quite some time. I decided to look up the current status of the quilt as a public memorial, and what I learned gave me great pause. The amount of deaths does not shock me, the size of the quilt isn’t a surprise, it’s how much it weighs. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, it weighs 54 tons. To put that much grief into an art form to remember a loved one. It’s heavy. In the literal sense of the word.

A very public memorial to help people feel less alone in their grief. Those little squares represent somebody. A life lost too soon. This week a friend told me that grief is really love searching for a place to go, and I thought that was the most succinct way to think about it. When a loss happens, you are also faced with thinking about other losses. Things you haven’t mourned. What you ignored finds you.

The weight of it forces you to pause. Unexpected beauty.


Another book.

I read one of my favorites writer/illustrator, Ella Frances Sanders, her newest book Eating the Stars: Small Musings on a Vast Universe. She’s one of the most interesting writers, and her posts on Instagram delight me. I drop everything to read her newsletter. I feel like she draws and paints what she cannot express. Maybe her drawings expand more on her writing. Either way, I find her work so inspiring. Interesting.

Here is a quote from her book that I love:

I want to remember that the sky is so gorgeously large, I feel stranded beneath it. ~Anis Mojgan


One more thing. A lightness. Something hopeful.

I finished my part of a future art exhibition Kumihimo Wishes. Two lovely things happened as a result of working on this project. I learned how to weave using a kumihimo disc, and I got to make a mess on my dining/art studio table yesterday. When I finished it, I walked it over to a box in front of the artist’s house, and it felt so wonderful to finish my part in something that is yet to be finished. I have no idea what the full project will look like.

The artist asked us to write a wish. So I did. I copied a bit of Rumi and made a wish.

Each night/ the moon kisses secretly the lover who counts the stars. (Rumi)

May that lover be you. (My wish)

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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