We’ve been singing a song about my dead dog lately, and it’s a real doozy. It took us months to work up to performing it live, with starts and stops of lumpy throats and staring at the ceiling. Now, we can get through it fine most of the time, and leave the feelings for the audience.
And our audience is feeling it. They are replacing our dog in the song with ex-husbands and dead wives, their own dogs or their parents, and sometimes their children. It’s a world of grief out there, and we are grateful to be the ones facilitating a catharsis if it’s needed. The conversations following the show are similar.
“You never stop missing them,” they will say.
“We never do,” I say, not sure whose loss we are speaking of.
“And they are always still there,” they will say.
“It’s true,” I say, and then add something I think is wise, “the grief never goes away. It’s just a space you learn to work around, occasionally bumping into.”
“Yes,” they say. And then, they are gone, bumping into the grief space on their way out the door.
But maybe it isn’t like that at all.
When our friend Josh died, it was sudden and intentional, and we were speeding to Chattanooga late at night to catch a funeral we never imagined we’d attend. At the funeral, the space of grief widened as we listened to a recording of Tom Petty singing–
You belong among the wildflowers…
I don’t listen to Tom Petty, anymore. Maybe it’s more than an empty space. Maybe it’s a black hole, sucking up those songs and next day hangovers and lit candles into a mass of memory you have to work very hard to avoid getting caught in again.
Last month, we watched our friend Thomas direct a choir of children at his school in a medley of songs ranging from Beyonce to Jerry Garcia. When they sang Wildflowers, I tensed. I thought about leaving. I thought about covering my face. Instead, I cried.
Grief is a space you bump into on occasion– a space you work around. It is also a black hole, sweeping you down a long tunnel of old church pews and a mother bent over her son’s coffin. Grief is also a room, lit brightly, that you choose to enter and walk through again and again, changing the flowers in the center table vase before closing the door again on the other side, occasionally with a choir of children or a little folk band guiding you in and safely out again.