I have been late in discovering a wonderful writer like Cheryl Strayed. I haven’t yet read any of her books, but her Dear Sugar columns for Rumpus have been great. She is considered a pioneer in the Internet Existential Advice column genre. Then I started reading about her book Wild, which is now a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. It talks of a time in Strayed’s life when she was still mourning her mother’s death almost 3 years after the fact; a period when she repeatedly cheated on her husband like she was addicted. Finally she goes for a long hike and this book and the movie are about that hike. I was curious to know more, even though I didn’t understand her reaction to the death by cheating. I then stumbled upon this piece she had written for the Sun magazine – The Love of My Life its called.
That article is like a precursor to Wild. She talks about her husband, her incessant cheating (which led her to change her last name to Strayed btw), but most of all she talks about grief, of sadness that cannot be wished away. I still don’t understand her reasons for processing her grief by cheating, but there was something that I caught – is it really necessary or even realistic to expect to move on from certain things? Strayed talks about waking up feeling she couldn’t continue to live and then being afraid that she will have to continue to live, with the loss –
“If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease. We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.”
Grief can be about any loss, it could be that dream job that you didn’t get or one that turned into a nightmare, it could be that relationship that was never meant to be, or it could be death. But rarely do we come across people being ok with us holding on to our grief or pain for more than an acceptable period of time. One might say acceptable is subjective, but there are apparently rules. A relationship – half the time of its actual duration at the max, a job – the moment you get a new one; death, perhaps a little more complex, but not more than a year they stipulate. And after this time, you are magically supposed to be sparkly new, as if the trauma never happened, the grief never observed.
“WHAT DOES IT mean to heal? To move on? To let go? Whatever it means, it is usually said and not done, and the people who talk about it the most have almost never had to do it.”
Let it go has become such a mantra, one is supposed to let go of everything, to the point of showing some ADD symptoms. But what if some things can’t be brushed off? What if some people, some things, some experiences will always be there, no matter how much you try to move on? What if they are like the wound which left a scar, which you then did plastic surgery for, but you will always know where the scar existed? Does it remind people who see us that they could also feel such hopeless, seemingly ceaseless pain? Do we move on to not look like a freak and then go back home and toss and turn in our beds while replaying tapes of that thing you didn’t really move on from in your head? Do we move on because we are tired of being there, trapped, while everything and everyone has changed?
Strayed concludes – “Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do.”
And I wish to ask, is it imperative to move on? I’d like to believe the world has space for the maudlin, the weary, the ones who find other things to do even as they live with grief. Holding on to grief and being open about it may not equal being less than. But then perhaps I don’t really know everything about grief or healing.