They offer several scenarios for what a “grief literate society” would look like: it would include grief education in curricula, starting in junior levels; it recognizes and acknowledges grief from non-death losses, and pet deaths, and does not rank those losses vis-a-vis human death loss. People in a grief literate society would understand and accept differences in grieving styles, in terms of gender, race, and culture, and they would feel comfortable to talk about their own loss experiences and to ask about loss experiences of others, instead of avoiding the subject or showing discomfort.
To the people of New York, Paris, or London, "death" is a word that is never pronounced because it burns the lips. The Mexican, however, frequents it, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and most steadfast love. Of course, in his attitude perhaps there is as much fear as there is in one of the others; at least he does not hide it; he confronts it face to face with patience, disdain, or irony.
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
― Jamie Anderson
People you love become part of you — not just metaphorically, but physically. You absorb people into your internal model of the world. Your brain refashions itself around the expectation of their presence. After the breakup with a lover, the death of a friend, or the loss of a parent, the sudden absence represents a major departure from homeostasis. As Kahlil Gibran put it in The Prophet, “And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
In this way, your brain is like the negative image of everyone you’ve come in contact with. Your lovers, friends, and parents fill in their expected shapes. Just like feeling the waves after you’ve departed the boat, or craving the drug when it’s absent, so your brain calls for the people in your life to be there. When someone moves away, rejects you, or dies, your brain struggles with its thwarted expectations. Slowly, through time, it has to readjust to a world without that person.
In my early twenties, two friends of mine died within a short time period. As is often the case when people first experience the death of a loved one, I spent years trying to make sense of their passing—particularly the why. That journey led me, at one point, to a retreat for healing. On that trip, I opened up to my teacher about the question I was struggling with. She confessed that she couldn’t tell me why, but that she could tell me about a theory she had read—that we were all cells in a larger body. And that in bodies, cells are constantly dying and being born, part of a larger cycle that they may never be able to fully understand.