We often talk about grieving a dead person and have ample resources for rightfully dealing with a difficult and sometimes traumatic situation. However, we tend to ignore the ugly red-headed stepchild, a stepchild called:
GRIEVING A PERSON WHO IS ALIVE
For some, this may not make much sense. For others, it makes perfect sense. It's an unrelenting emotion that does not garner much sympathy or empathy from others. Sometimes, this is called ambiguous loss. Some examples of this are:
- Having a loved one deal with a crippling addiction
- Seeing your parents age and facing mortality
- Children leaving your home
- Breaking up with someone
- Cutting off abusive or unsavory family members
- Seeing a loved one fade away due to a mental illness (e.g. dementia)
Each loss is a completely different experience and will you hit at sometimes inopportune moments. A variety of triggers can change your demeanor at a moment's notice: be it a song, a smell, a phrase, or being in a certain place. It's not always bad, but you're grieving the loss of a relationship either due to it changing fundamentally or it being gone from your life. Some of these cases are especially painful because you know there is a slight chance of reconnecting or rekindling something.
For me, it was a painful process. Returning to a city, nay, a country where the ghost of a person filled certain roads, certain landmarks, and certain foods. Conventional wisdom says that I should have not so intrinsically linked a country to a singular entity. But then my brain was the cliff and my heart, the bitter buffalo...
That last week of frigid interactions. A vile email that was sent months later. Her reaction when I ran into her almost a year after the relationship ended. None of this helped my emotions, because these behaviors were difficult to reconcile with the memories of the person I knew - or I thought I knew. It caused me to question a lot of things, and these new memories slowly started superseding the old ones.
Sometimes, I would fall onto my knees and just wail. There was no use bottling it all up. There was a lot of self-blame. Some occasions are especially hard, but none more so than my grandfather's death. A grandfather who I loved dearly and whose last words to me were: "Send my love to Maria." On those days, her absence feels more like a presence.
It's gotten better, partly due to the insight into the Japanese psyche that I have gotten from delivering over 3000 lessons to people from all walks of life. Understanding that some things can be attributed to culture, others to trauma, and the rest to personality.
It's taken a Herculean effort to commit these words to a screen. And while doing so, I cogitated on memories of a language lost. Never to be spoken again. The facial expressions, the multilingual jokes, the noises, the way we argued, and the way we dovetailed often at the confusion of others. People often remarked that we didn't just look good as a couple, we looked happy. And to me, that meant a whole lot more. But it's not just a language and relationship that died, it's also a part of me.
We often don't allow people to grieve those that are alive. Either because they just need to get over it (i.e. there's a lot of fish in the sea) or because it makes them uncomfortable.
Since then, I have made many a mistake when trying to date. Similar to when I lost another ex-girlfriend. However, in that first case, she actually died. It took me years to have a better understanding of her, me, and relationships in general. I mostly blamed myself for the longest time. Much like how I mostly blame myself for the demise of this relationship. In the former case, it definitely isn't true. In the latter, it's a tad more complicated.
There will be dreams forever unfulfilled. Dreams I can't transpose to another person. All the things I hoped for, I wished for, I took for granted...gone in an instant. In one situation, there was no choice, just a violent physical death. In the other, there was a violent intangible death. All because a person decided that their life was better off without me in it.
I smile wistfully at all of this and curse the gods for bringing slices of heaven before whisking it away.
My grandfather always wanted what was best for me. What I thought was best for me – no. Who I thought was best for me cares not one iota about me. And that will have to be okay.