I’m writing this sitting on a massage roller because I am dealing with some persistent hip and back pain. The unfortunate byproduct of this is that it has become very difficult to play tennis because each time I plant my left foot with any kind of force there is shooting pain is triggered in the left hip. When it comes to pain, there is obviously a physical component to it, but of course, there’s deep emotional pain as well. Connected to this pain, there is often a feeling or experience of loss and grief. The pain that I’m dealing with in my hip and back has been with me for a while, but it has worsened recently. It now has me asking the question as to whether it will ever return to normal. I’m hoping it will, but I also have to consider the possibility that this may be another event in my life that throws me off course, as tennis has become a big part of my life. And yet, I don’t want to get too far ahead and catastrophize. Many people have recovered from far worse.
Loss comes in many forms and not just from being unable to play a sport one has come to love and enjoy. There is a loss of one’s innocence, loss of one’s physical capabilities, loss of one’s beliefs, loss of one’s faith, loss of one’s trust, loss of one’s financial stability, loss of a relationship, loss of one’s home, loss of one’s job, and so much more. The most monumental loss, however, has to be the loss of someone who one loves dearly. And if we live long enough and put ourselves out in the world, then it’s virtually certain that we will all experience such a devastating event. It’s inevitable.
I am fortunate that we had so many wonderful years that commenced when we were 21 and 22, respectively, so we could really grow from the ground floor when all we had was each other, our values, a healthy work ethic, our strong sense of family, and a commitment to our faith and all of the cultural events associated with it.
While we didn’t agree on everything, we did when it came to the big issues and the direction we wanted to go in life. We were blessed with two wonderful children who brought us a lot of joy and great pride and who have both turned out to be wonderful human beings. Roneet never shied away from telling you what she thought or where you stood. She had no problem reiterating to me over the years that “What’s hers is hers, and what’s mine is hers.” It brought me great joy to contribute in ways that could bring her joy and deep satisfaction.
Whenever I see pictures of Roneet, I always smile because she was so beautiful, vibrant, happy, joyful, optimistic, and had such an infectious laugh. I can’t help but laugh at reflecting on some of the situations we got ourselves into and the ways we had of communicating in our secret code, winks, raising an eyebrow, giving one the evil eye, scrunching up the mouth, etc. It makes me wonder if we can be who we truly are without our memories. I don’t think so. They’re integral to who we are, how we take in the world and respond to it, and one of the important ways we can derive satisfaction from our lives. I always believe it’s important to engage in the world in ways that add content to our personal novels or screenplays (metaphorically speaking). I always believe we should do our best to live life in a way that stimulates the creation of powerful memories that can enrich the tapestry of our lives.
Our memories allow us to carry our loved ones with us. At the same time, there is no escaping the terrible void their loss creates and the pain that remains, even if it’s buried more deeply as time goes by. And just as the pain in my hip and back may be with me for the rest of my life and is something I will need to contemplate and adjust to, the loss of Roneet will always be with me, too, in some form or fashion.
Fortunately, her passing is not as jarring and devastating as it was when it was still so raw, but it’s a void nonetheless. And yet, I have had to adjust, adapt, and innovate to ensure that I am not subsumed by the loss.Grief is so powerful, and it can either hit us like a tsunami and overwhelm us or we can engage with it honestly and powerfully in ways that hopefully make us more human, more fully alive, and able to grow from it. Click To Tweet
Shattering Loss from Nick Cave
I was reading an article about Nick Cave, the Australian musician who has had a long and storied career and quite a cult-like following. He is very innovative and is never one to rest on his laurels, as he is always stretching, growing, and experimenting. For many years he had a very combative relationship with the media and refused to give interviews. He was ornery and not very accessible. Tragically, however, his 15-year-old son Arthur died in an accident in 2015, and his world was completely shattered. This event was the seminal experience of his life, and he has been completely altered by it. One of the byproducts of this was that he began to open up much more about his life, how he has processed the incredible grief he has felt, his strong religious beliefs, and insights about living a full and meaningful life. I learned in the article that he had started a website called the Red Hand Files. I was so intrigued that I went to the site after reading the article, and wow, what a treasure trove of brilliance! I will end the post with an incredibly profound answer he provided that is so germane to the topic of grief.
Going down the rabbit hole of all things Nick Cave led me to become aware of a recently released book called Faith, Hope And Carnage. It’s a series of interviews carried out by an Irish journalist that has followed his career for many years and has become close friends with Cave. I decided to listen to the Audible version because I wanted to hear Nick Cave communicate in his own voice. It was extraordinary. His way of speaking is so precise and yet so beautiful. He is a true poet with incredible insights about human nature and the power of loss and how he has tried to process it alone and in conjunction with his wife. It was so impactful for me that I now consider it one of the best Audible books I’ve ever listened to. I highly recommend it, especially for anyone trying to process grief.
I have written a lot over the last four years about my life and how it has changed in the wake of such a monumental loss. Life never stops moving forward, nor should any of us. I am not the same person as I was prior to Roneet’s passing because such an integral part of my life is no longer here, so how can I be the same? I’ve had to take on responsibilities that she would do or we would do together. I’ve had to learn more about myself and what is really important to me, and these choices and experiences have contributed to my reshaping. I still have the same core beliefs and values, as well as the incredible memories of a beautiful life we had together, but it’s a life that’s different now. Life makes demands and callings of us, and it’s up to us to respond.I always want to respond in the most positive and healthy ways that help me live life with great vigor and vitality and leave the world a little better than I found it.Click To Tweet
I would prefer to speak more about life in the here and now, offer insights from my personal journey, and pontificate about the future as opposed to lingering in the past. Given this, I think it’s now time to tap into someone far more eloquent and insightful than me to help others manage through their grief or provide a window of understanding for those who don’t know how to help others who are dealing with the pain of grief. And this is where I return to Nick Cave and The Red Hand Files.
The question Cave chose to answer in Redhand File #204 was from Beau who asked “What is the point of life?” Obviously, this is a very deep question and is deserving of a very thoughtful answer. It turns out that Nick Cave is very well-equipped to address Beau’s question. This is his answer and one that left me spellbound after reading it.
To understand the point in life we must first understand what it is to be human. It seems to me that the common agent that binds us all together is loss, and so the point in life must be measured in relation to that loss. Our individual losses can be small or large. They can be accumulations of losses barely registered on a singular level, or full-scale cataclysms. Loss is absorbed into our bodies from the moment we are cast from the womb until we end our days, subsumed by it to become the essence of loss itself. We ultimately become the grief of the world, having collected countless losses through our lifetime. These losses are many-faceted and chronic, both monstrous and trivial. They are losses of dignity, losses of agency, losses of trust, losses of spirit, losses of direction or faith, and, of course, losses of the ones we love. They are daily, convulsive disappointments or great historical injuries that cast their shadows across the human predicament, reminding us of the stunning potential of our own loss of humanity. We are capable of the greatest atrocities and the deepest sufferings, all culminating in a vast, collective grief. This is our shared condition.
Yet happiness and joy continue to burst through this mutual condition. Life, it seems, is full of an insistent, systemic and irrepressible beauty. But these moments of happiness are not experienced alone, rather they are almost entirely relational and are dependent on a connection to the Other – be it people, or nature, or art, or God. This is where meaning establishes itself, within the connectedness, nested in our shared suffering.
I believe we are meaning-seeking creatures, and these feelings of meaning, relational and connective, are almost always located within kindness. Kindness is the force that draws us together, and this, Beau, is what I think I am trying to say – that despite our collective state of loss, and our potential for evil, there exists a great network of goodness, knitted together by countless everyday human kindnesses.
These often small, seemingly inconsequential acts of kindness, that Soviet writer Vasily Grossman calls ‘petty, thoughtless kindness’, or ‘unwitnessed kindness’, bind together to create a subterranean and vanquishing Good that counterbalances the forces of evil and prevents suffering from overwhelming the world. We reach out and find each other in the common darkness. By doing so we triumph over our collective and personal loss. Through kindness, we slant, shockingly and miraculously, toward meaning. We discover, in that smallest gesture of goodwill laid at the feet of our mutual and monumental loss, ‘the point‘.