In Which the Sun Starts to Come Out
I think about death a lot. It is paradoxically, though not surprisingly, an excellent way to remind yourself how fortunate you are to be alive, and how grateful you should be for the privilege.
Pretty much every day in Phoenix is a sunny day. It sounds nice in theory, but it complicates the grieving process: It’s difficult to sit around feeling sorry for yourself with the sun is shining. On dark, overcast days, if you’re feeling particularly miserable, it’s easy to convince yourself that the best thing to do is to curl up under a blanket with a cup of tea and a book and perhaps a friendly cat and just wait things out. But when you look outside and see a clear, azure sky, it seems almost wasteful to sit inside with the blinds drawn and sulk. Even if you know that, in Phoenix, “sunny” does not necessarily equal “nice”; in fact, “sunny” can just as easily mean “excessive heat warning and dangerous UV index.” But growing up in one of the cloudiest parts of the country has primed me to believe that sunny is good, and not going outside to enjoy it is to miss out on a rare and wonderful thing.
To clarify, I don’t think a lot about dying. I think about death. There are important differences: Dying is what happens to a person, death is what is left for the people still alive.
Generally speaking, dying is negative. It is sad, or scary. It makes people angry. Death, though—death is more neutral. Its inevitability, its universality, are comforting. Everyone will die someday. Money and power can sometimes stave it off for days or weeks or years, but not forever. Death is one of two unifying features of all living things.
The other is that we are alive.
That second one is the one that matters. But it’s also the one we forget about.
Since we got married, and indeed well before, the most important thing in my life was for Arijit to be happy. And the easiest, most surefire way to make Arijit happy was for me to be happy. It was a beautiful, infinite, positive feedback loop: if I was happy, then he was happy, which made me happy, and on and on and on. That desire hasn’t gone away.
I’ve always known that the most important thing to Arijit was that I was happy. After he died, this fact sometimes slipped my mind. I felt required to be sad. I became fixated on my grief, on what it meant. The depths of my grief became, to me, a demonstration of how deeply I loved Arijit. Being sad was the surest proof of how much he meant to me. Because I loved him the most, and because he loved me the most, I had to be the saddest. I was the grieving widow, and I would grieve my heart out. So I found myself subconsciously sabotaging my healing. In this secret and unspoken competition between me and everyone else, I was determined to win by essentially losing.
And then I realized how idiotic and self-defeating that was, and how I was doing the one thing that would hurt Arijit more than anything else. His love for me is eternal and unwavering, just as is my love for him. Nothing I do or don’t do will ever change that. So why was I forcing myself to be miserable?
Every day my heart re-breaks when I realize Arijit is gone. Sometimes I can tell what triggers it—seeing his photos, or a particular date, or some recalling some half-forgotten memory—and sometimes it just blindsides me. Sometimes the pain is intense; sometimes it’s more melancholic, or bittersweet, or wistful.
But it’s always there. And it always will be.
But the fact that my heart breaks doesn’t mean it is broken.
Just like the fact that I am sad doesn’t mean I can’t be happy.
It has been very sunny in Phoenix these past few days. So sunny, in fact, that planes were grounded because it was too hot.
This ultra-sunniness has meant that I’ve had a lot of time to sit and think. My bereavement counselor says that I am very cerebral about my grief. I think she is right. I like understanding why I am sad. It means I can figure out ways to maybe be less sad. If I understand what I’m feeling, then I can control it. Not that it’s possible to control grief, really, but it is possible to redirect it. To use it to reevaluate yourself and your situation and how you plan to cope. It requires a lot of critical self-evaluation, and honesty, and introspection; it’s difficult to face your fears and faults and not be consumed by them, especially at a time when you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable. But it’s the only way I know to go on.
Grief shakes your confidence. For some people, it shatters. For the lucky ones, it may sway and bend, but it holds. For some of us, grief bolsters your confidence to a somewhat insane degree. After Arijit’s death, for a time, I felt invincible—that if I survived this, nothing could touch me. Over time, much of that bravado has waned. In its place, though, is a very real sort of faith in myself, different and stronger than anything else that came before.
I have survived. And I’m trying to understand what that means. In the context of understanding life and death, this is important.
For the past three-and-a-half months, I’ve struggled to find my way back to a world that seems so different and unknowable now. My guide was gone, I have not traveled by myself in so long, and I was afraid of getting lost. But there is a great, big world out there, full of fantastical and wonderful things, that will keeping turning with or without me.
That indifference is strangely life-affirming. Apparently I do well with benign neglect.
Last week was the 4-year anniversary of our courthouse wedding. I went to the Grand Canyon that day. There’s something very comforting and exhilarating about the outdoors, about speeding across the high desert with all the windows down, about staring over the vastness of the canyon and seeing physical proof of the vastness of time, about sitting quietly and listening to the bird song echoing from a stand of aspen. In the beauty that is nature, I saw the beauty that is life and love. Both of those things are important, but only one is infinite. I am every day reminded to cherish the one that is not.
The utter improbability of life is what makes it so beautiful. To hide away from the world is to miss out on the great and infinite mysteries of being, mysteries that we has human beings have an almost sacred and profound duty to explore.
As Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes so succinctly put it: “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy. Let’s go exploring.”
I couldn’t agree more.