Listen, friends. That mountain is not insurmountable. I’ve crossed it before. I was twenty-two when my father died and then, as now, I wanted control. I wasted hours reading bad articles about the stages of grief. I wasted even more hours trying to write about my father. Both obsessions slunk from the same lizard part of my brain that tried to shelter under the illusion of structure, that scuttled after anything with momentum. Stages, paragraphs, outlines—I wanted the reassurance that grief had a roadmap I could follow.
I am sorry to say that you cannot write yourself through grief. Would that we could. Would that we could design our sentences and syllables, our powerful metaphors and efficient engines of plot into machines, armored tanks that carry us through the wilds of grief and deliver us unscathed to the other side. Twice in my life I’ve tried to armor myself in writing, because writing was how I made sense of the world. Twice have I gritted my teeth through the death of a loved one and churned out bad pages in response. I was trying to force meaning when there was none, when I was too close for meaning.
It’s a shame that when we say writing, we mean only the act of putting words on the page. How dull. How short-sighted.
It is one year ago and we are still hugging our friends, still swaying en masse from subway poles, still stopping for golden-lit happy hours at outdoor cafes where we lick food from our fingers and laugh in each other’s faces and never disinfect our hands. On the evening of a day such as this, I write an email to a friend. I share my life, inquire about hers. I ask about her lover, her job, her health. We haven’t corresponded in months and so as I write there is a sense of stiff muscles warming. Only at the very end, when I feel sufficiently tender, do I say, I hope the writing is going well.