An Aerie to Leave Behind
Posted by goodgrief84
25th Oct 2018

“…There are times when something is asked of us, and we find we must do it. There is no calculation involved, no measure of the necessity of the thing itself, the action that must be performed. There is simply an acknowledgment that we will do the thing in question, and then the thing is done, often at considerable personal cost. “

“What goes into these decisions? What tiny factors, invisible, in the jutting edges of personality and circumstance, contribute to this inevitability?”

― Jesse Ball, The Curfew

Now, to be clear, no one ever asked anything of me. But I remember that even before I got into the car on that Saturday morning to drive up to be with my family, I had already started thinking about it: my role in this. I think, ultimately, I asked it of myself; perhaps only semi-consciously; somewhere along the M40 motorway. Something daemonic whispered inside, and I was told that I would put something of myself aside, in order that I could protect the people around me. It took me more than six months to realise how arrogant this presumption was: that by helping others I might inoculate myself against my own grief. It took me less than a month before I began to suffer the consequences.

“Wounds to the soul didn’t just bleed; they ate at your very being. They fed on everything good, everything right, until you were hollow.”
― Sadie Allen, Saving Me

After I came off the phone I trudged upstairs to start packing. For a while I just stood, lent against the wall, looking into my wardrobe and sobbing. It was bitterly painful now — the intensity of the grief. It was as though all of the purpose had been sucked out of the world and it would not matter one bit if I ever moved from that spot again. The magnolia could grow over me; a banal residue; and the floorboards could curl up around my legs; and I could stay there forever as a monument to that day.

Eventually I managed to pry some clothes from the hangers and shove them into a bag. It would later transpire that I had mainly packed smart shirts and very little else. I supposed that this must have been because I had associated smart shirts with my brother, but who is to know whether this has anything in it at all? I told myself many different stories in the throes of grief. Some of them were bound to be nonsense just by virtue of probability. In the subsequent days and weeks everything seemed to become one long tangle of dissonant narratives as one by one the minds of the bereaved melded into a hive of despair and confusion. The pain seemed to feed and thrive on murky accounts and contradiction as this incongruous reality evolved. Why did he do this to himself; to us?

“Grief isn’t always a knife-sharp twist in your heart or a dull bludgeon in your stomach, sometimes it’s a net, cast suddenly and silently over your soul so that you feel trapped and suffocated by its grasp. I feel the loss in the deepest recesses of myself, hidden parts of my mind and my matter, united in missing someone I will never see again.”
― Non Pratt

The reality of loss was too much to bear for those close to me, and so in the weeks that followed, I assembled an aerie from where I could observe the casualties of grief; hatch. The protrusions pricked and stung and so I feathered the nest with soft wadding of unmitigated affection and ecstatic love. I would sit and smile and languish. It was easier; and the alternative of being wrenched and wrought into submission by the hot pain did not bear consideration. But, as I came to realise, this was no choice at all. The pain would need to be met and the high point of vantage abandoned for the lowly pit of my own grief. The fall from the aerie would be sharp. And because I had sat on that high mountain alone, the descent would be a lonely one. And because the fortress had been built from walls of love and affection; they too would have to fall. Abandoned by these feelings, I would forget myself for a time.

“I must do something or I shall wear my heart away…”
― Charles Dickens

It is my experience that the loss of a loved one can induce a longing for new things. The old world that they inhabited becomes a place to escape from. Even the seemingly certain comfort of the family home had idled with grief and become unsettlingly wild with memories.

Often when I would arrive at the house he would already be there; perhaps standing down the hallway in the kitchen, or maybe he would open the door. Physical affection never seemed like a natural impulse where he was concerned. For him, I think it almost became an affectation that he came to enjoy; or, at the very least, sense some value in. The dynamic of our hugs was always the same. He would be the instigator, walking towards me, arms held out. Sometimes there would be a “Come ‘ere then” or similar. Then I would wrap my arms around his back and hold him. I could feel him pull slightly away after a few seconds. But I would always linger and squeeze a few seconds longer and he would notice and reinvest in the embrace; and perhaps offer a pat on the back or two. As we pulled away he might kiss me on the cheek. “It’s good to see you,” I would say. And I always meant it.

All around me everything had lost its own integrity and now only existed by association with him; by virtue of the fact that he had touched it or inhabited the space. A spectral Midas of memories. And so I too began to disappear for a time. Because it was too much to bear. But that was a mistake.

“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.”
― Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi

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