How do we learn the meanings of words like “grief”?
How can five squiggles strung together – g r i e f – or four, for that matter – l o v e – end up conveying such a complex and undefinable cocktail of inner states?
This is Alfie.
I’d named him. “What shall we call him, Mama?” The boys debated. Brownie. “No, he’s not a cake!” Conrad Owl. Nope that wouldn’t do.
His Ty-given name (for they all come with their own names, attached on a little ❤️-shaped tag) didn’t do his extreme cuteness justice, either. For I’d looked very hard indeed, in the heaving hellhole that was Hamleys on a pre-Christmas Saturday night, for a new “friend” for Conrad that really melted the heart.
Blake got a dog, Harry, big brother to Seraphine’s little Gypsy. All the cutest animals I could find, out of the very many on offer. (I pick them individually by face. We all do. We’ve always done.)
I confided in the kids that Alfie reminded me of my first, most beloved friend. I had a little brown owl myself, when I was about Seraphine’s age. Loved to death. Washed so often, tragedy struck one day… her left eye (orangey-yellow) fell off. It was glued back, but she never looked quite the same again. I felt a pang in my heart every time I looked in her face. But I loved her still. I wish I still had her. She would have been very happy to meet Alfie. And vice versa.
I lugged Conrad’s things up to his new dorm after him. We started unpacking. Out came Conrad Bunny, Blake Bunny, Conrad pillow, and Conrad Fluffy, in his “new” t-shirt which Conrad had given him for Christmas. He placed them on his bed.
Then he handed Alfie to me.
“For you, Mama. You keep him.”
😳 “But no, Conrad. He’s yours. I can’t keep him. He’ll make me feel worse. He’ll make me think about you every day.”
His little body moved towards mine like one magnet to the other, his face alight with love and his trademark heartbreaking generosity. “I want you to have him, Mama.”
I sat down as the sobs overcame me.
Grief often has a “stuck” quality about it – don’t you find? Like it sticks in your throat. In your heart.
A certain numbness, a certain befuddling ordinariness to it. It can feel, confusingly, like -nothing-.
One goes through the motions, vaguely aware that beneath the actions and movements and things to be done, there are deep feelings stirring.
One must be careful, I find, to hold the right space for these feelings. It is all too easy to make a hooha out of them, and overdramatise them, or take them too heavily, and they end up weighing one down.
It is equally too easy to commit the opposite error; to marginalise them, minimise them, deny or belittle or pretend they land much less impactfully than they actually do.
I have been practicing how to float along with these heavy feelings, as they take their course. There is most definitely an element of maintaining one’s dynamic balance here, of practicing self-witnessing and self-compassion.
Above all I have learnt one thing. The way to ride the ups and downs is to deliberately settle into ease, relaxation, and surrender. It is possible to be present in the intense, sometimes crushing, heartaching, beautiful and dignified and exciting and magnificent paradoxicism of all that the passing moment can actually contain.
Which, I suspect, is the same as how much one’s heart can actually contain.
I sit here in the Cothill carpark, wrung dry, taking this moment to explore my awareness and honour its transient events of such momentous meaning, before I start my slow return to a much, much quieter home.
Conrad was surrounded by friends who ran up to our car and who couldn’t wait for him to get out. “Conrad!” “It’s Conrad!” “Where were you?” “What took you so long?” And off he went, swallowed up by others whose turn it is to love him in presence and action now.
“I went to drop Blake off. He’s at Sauveterre this term.” I’d made this happen. I asked for permission to return C back late so he could send Blake off together with Philipp and me. He was the only brother who was there at the airport.
It needed to be this way, I thought.
So you see. My flooding heart was carrying the load of two deluges.
It normally takes a *lot* to tip me over. Little cute Alfie, sitting here next to me, soft and round with his bright green eyes, recipient of so much adoration and star of so many hilarious stories the siblings made up with their “friends” over the last concentrated weeks of togetherness, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Can you spot Icecube? Small, blue, and purposely positioned by Blake, peeking out of his wheelie bag – waiting to start their adventure?
Silly, childish soft toys they could appear. But given how much we as a family charge them all up with love, fun, relationship, and common memory… in handing them over to one another for keepsake, this is also precisely how, powerfully, we take care of one another.