I think quite a lot about ordinary griefs. I know that really one should not put things on a scale and that not everything is relative, but I do think that some losses are worse than others. So I think of griefs as coming in two kinds: the ordinary griefs, and the rip-up-your-life griefs.
The ones that rip up your life are the ones I can’t imagine. I think of those as the violent, sudden, or too soon ones: the children, the young brother, the just-married wife. Or the too many ones: when a whole family is lost, in a car crash or hurricane. Or, right at the other end of the scale, the ones where two people have been together for fifty years, and one of them goes. The other often does not survive for long. People really do die of broken hearts.
The ordinary ones are all the ones I know: the old men, the old dogs, the old pony. They are the ones who have had their time. The loss hurts, but the natural order of things has been preserved. There is, in the end, consolation in that. In that strange season of death three years ago, when I went to three funerals in three weeks, two of the departed were untimely ripped. Two of them were too young, but I was saved by just enough distance. They were people I loved and knew, but they were not in the immediate circle. They were people I fell on with delight and affection when I saw them, but I did not see them very often. The distance was geographical and circumstantial, and it was enough. The heart was sore, the awfulness and stupidness of fine spirits snuffed out too early was keenly felt, but the life was not ripped.
In the news, there is a rip-up death. I never know what to say about people I admire but do not know. Philip Seymour Hoffman was in many of my favourite films, and was a blazing talent. He had that sense of familiarity that great actors carry, because you’ve seen them in the darkened cinema and your front room, and the vivid sense that the great ones carry makes them very real and present. His death was so abrupt and unexpected and pointless that the lives around him must feel as if they have been torn to pieces. Out on the internet, there is a great outpouring of regret. Some of the messages are touching and elegant, but I find myself resisting adding to them. I put up no Facebook picture and tweeted no tweet. He was not my friend. I do not know how to say anything which would not sound mawkish or bandwagon-jumping.
Yet, the internet is rather wonderful in times like this. The loss of a brilliant man may be marked. Strangers may record their admiration for him. Perhaps the ones who did know and love him will find their broken hearts soothed, just a little, to see that he was held in such esteem. All the same, I feel an odd shyness about posting anything about it on my own internet pages. He was not mine; he did not belong to me.
This morning, someone wrote something beautiful and touching about the old gentleman who was mine. This is another of the ordinary griefs. A man of venerable age went gently into that good night. The sorrow is real, and lies heavy, but it may be managed. I know that time will do its thing.
I circle back to the start of this post – the thinking about these ordinary griefs, and how they are folded into a life. They must be folded in, because every human has them, and one of the most important existential talents is to learn how to carry them, so that they do not sink the ship.
This morning, I had a little lesson in that. I came away from reading the lovely tribute very doleful and tearful. The weight of loss pressed on me. But then the dog made me laugh, and the Horse Talker was down at the field and we made jokes about the equines, who show such daily comedy skills, and then I got on my red mare and rode out. I had thought that would be the time when sadness might return, but she was in her most racehorsey mood, and I had to concentrate hard to settle and relax her.
Then, on the way home, I bumped into some of the extended family who are visiting, and we had a happy chat and they admired my glorious girl, which lifted my spirits. Then there was HorseBack work, and many things to think about. Then there was the writing of the secret project. Then, it was time to go back to the field and feed the horses and put out the hay and check the rugs and give the love. And then it was back to the desk. I even did errands and very ordinary domestic duties.
The sorrow got put away, because there was life instead, and I can’t mope about like a wet weekend. I suppose the lesson in this small parable is that life goes on, and that is exactly what it must do. I think what I was reminded of, particularly in the unexpected laughter with the living people I saw today, was that sorrow does not need to blot out everything else. Moments of joy can exist alongside, cantering in tandem. There is room for both.
At the same time, for all my belief in bashing on, I think that one can be too stoical. There must be a marking, and a grieving, and room for regret. The thing must be felt, and expressed, in its correct place and time. Perhaps it is finding that right place that is the secret of it all. I hunt for it as Mr Stanley hunts for the mice in the feed shed, although perhaps with slightly less snuffling.
As I finish this, I think: I did not quite get all the good words in the good order. I wanted to say something profound, and I ended up with a bit of a muddle. I often do this. But then the whole shooting match is a bit of a muddle, so I don’t mind so much. You clever Dear Readers shall find your way through the tangle, because you always do.
Much too tired now to frame proper pictures for you. I scrolled through the archive and stopped at a random place. It was this, all glory and what-the-hell, from a time before the floods and the sleet and the applying of the new rug technology. It’s just a horse, having a damn good roll: