Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Reflections on time and on loss

[Content: grieving and death, including an oblique reference to suicide]

I don't know exactly when I stopped believing in the Christian idea of heaven and started to develop my own thoughts about loss and grief. At some point I took on board the concept that time has properties beyond those which we experience from our limited perspective. I began to believe in "space-time" in the same way that I had believed in the Holy Trinity: not as a coherent unit of knowledge but as a set of paths down which I could send my thoughts when ideas of existence and its inevitable end became overwhelming. The possibilities of time as something which only appeared to be linear did not form themselves into anything amounting to a philosophy or a conviction I would advocate to another person, but they did act as a source of soothing thoughts. These have developed over the course of several losses - lives, relationships, circumstances - into a set of small candles to be lit as a familiar ritual in my own personal darkness.

An ending does not affect what went before it.

In the immediate turmoil of grief, as we are forced in our minds to wrench someone out of our living present and into our vanishing past, there is no room for such a statement. But when the initial waves of anger and sickness have subsided I try to remember that the act of remembrance itself does not have to be so painful as to be avoided for long. An ending cannot blemish what went before it. As we continue to experience the passage of time, what has passed only passes away for us. The past is only lost to us, it is not lost to itself. The people who are no longer with us do not cease to exist; they had always existed at that locus of time and place and they will always exist there, though they have not moved with us into our present. Everything they ever were is still there, is still happening on its own terms, only we can no longer access it as we continue on our trajectory through time.

The end of a person's life no more defines them than its beginning, or any point in between.

We place a great deal of emphasis on what happens in the final moments of a person's life and while this can be a source of comfort when our ideals are met, we should not let this concept add to our grief. A moment of pain or of isolation is no more significant for having happened at the end of a life. Conversely, a moment of joy and companionship is no less important or definitive for having fallen in the middle of a lifetime. Every second of happiness which we bring to each other carries the same weight and our mere, human desire for a linear path cannot make one moment negate another. We should not underestimate the good which we do for each other, or the immutable light and warmth which we contribute to the wholeness of each other's lives.

I am still angry at every loss and I still grieve for those relationships which now only continue across an incomprehensible divide, but an end cannot sully what went before it. Someone is no longer with us but we are still with them, as we always were and always will be, in the incorruptible moments we share.

The loss is all ours but what we can take with us - what is never lost - is everything a person was to us. The memories, the ideas, the experiences and the emotions which they contributed to our lives reach across that divide and will continue to develop and change as we do. The people who are no longer with us still touch our lives even as they themselves experience no loss. But who is to say that the love and regard which we continue to feel for them cannot also echo across that divide, to that location is space and time which they continue to inhabit? I like to think that those echoes were always there.

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