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So, that happened.
Loss, grief, priorities.
It’s been a while, longer than I anticipated or intended. And, as with anything one hasn’t done for a while, I’ve been nervous about getting back on the metaphorical bike. (FYI, I am the sole exception to ‘you never forget how to ride a bike’. I forgot: I rode myself head-first into the Mekong River in Laos, I became gap-year folklore. Full story another day...)
In truth, I took a break because my father’s cancer had become terminal, and then, well…
I’ve gone back and forth on whether to share this here, because it’s still very recent and raw. However death unavoidably forces us to reassess our priorities, and since this newsletter is kind of all about that, I think I probably should.
I’d love to be offering up a Buzzfeed-esque listicle of strategies for navigating grief, but I feel under-qualified to do that right now. There’s the stuff that’s clearly helpful: sleep (enough, not too much), healthy eating (whatever that looks like to you), work (again, enough, not too much), time with friends and family, being in nature, meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise etc. That said, it’s also a list of things that you’d get after googling any generic wellbeing query: “How to… live a healthier life/feel less stressed/have better sex” and so on.
As a result, I’ve been confronted by the uncomfortable reality that sometimes none of that stuff does a thing. Sometimes the strategy for navigating loss is that you don’t. You can’t. You have to stop trying to make it better and instead let it just be.
(Then at other times – in my case, at least – you are completely fine, which can feel pretty weird and uncomfortable too.)
I’m no stranger to loss, yet one thing I’ve been struck by this time round is how little space our modern, secular world leaves for it. Grief is one the most fundamental parts of being alive but we pretend it doesn’t exist. I have no idea what the solution is, it's just an observation. I’ve actually drawn on my Jewish roots and been saying daily Kaddish - the mourners prayer - as an opportunity to just stop and be with my dad. I think this helps. Maybe.
When someone close to you dies, the world looks like a new place and you feel like a new person. Familiar, sure, but unfamiliar too. On the podcast I ask guests if their priorities have ever shifted in a moment, and the answer is almost always yes. My priorities have changed in prosaic but important ways. I care little about anyone who doesn’t care about me. I’m unapologetically putting up boundaries left, right and centre. And of course I’m prioritising the people I love. I appreciate my health, crave more time in nature, am more inclined to read poems.
The musician Nick Cave experienced the unimaginable when he lost two children just 5 years apart. He’s become a source of comfort to many when exploring loss and grief. Along with his beautiful response to a fan’s letter, he more recently spoke with Amanda Petrusich in the New Yorker. It was published the same week my father’s illness was deemed terminal, I (vaguely) remember reading it then and I’ve read it often since. I’ll end on a short quote from it today:
“We suffer as human beings, but out of that can come enormous joys, and genuine happiness, too. It can run in tandem with this ordinary sense of suffering. Otherwise, joy doesn’t resonate fully. Joy seems to leap forth out of suffering. Regardless of your loss, you see how beautiful, how meaningful, how joyful the world can suddenly be. Human beings in general, you know, are fleeting things. That’s something to understand on a fundamental level. That we have value. That we are precious.”
Thank you for reading, please no need to comment or reply. Oh and I think I’ll take these newsletters down to fortnightly for a while, boundaries and all that.