On: Grief

My best friend, Larissa Antoinette Attisso, died two months ago. A sudden death, improbable and unexpected. She died a week after my 31st birthday, two weeks after her 32nd.

 A vibrant human, also improbable and unexpected: a cool rock and roll type with a deep love of poetry. An enigma, hard to gain a grip on, a mythical woman, indulgent, reverent. Loved by us all.

Far Rockaway, New York, 2008

 But this is not a eulogy. This is not a piece to describe to you her love of Charlie Parker and Rimbaud and also, ridiculously, Gilmore Girls. Her deep love of Korn and wrestling but also of Baudelaire and good wine. Not a piece to try to show you, dear stranger, the true person you have lost without even knowing you had her. But, how do we discuss grief without eulogising the people we lost?

 According to the CDC 2016 census, roughly 2.7 million people died in 2016 in the US alone. Think of that. Think of the mothers and fathers, friends, sponsors, colleagues affected by those deaths. Think of the ripple effect from each one. We are all in mourning, all of us, but ironically, the grief feels so personal, so lonely.

 If you have lost someone to death you know the echoing sentiments of it all too well. You know the platitudes your friends and family and therapists (if you are lucky) tell you- grief comes in waves, the only way out is through, you have to be strong for your family/their family/yourself, time heals, you must keep busy. All impossible to soak in and even more impossible to imagine implementing.

 You know the obsessiveness- days spent poring over the minutiae of the days and hours prior to death, as if somewhere hidden in plain sight is the answer. Something you missed that could have prevented it all. For me, cross examining our texts, looking for an arrow that would say, “look, here is her death. Here it is.” Dissecting past conversations with mutual friends, searching for anything that would make us understand that it was inevitable. It is a funny instinct. Why would we want proof that we could not save our loves? Why would we want to feel powerless? Perhaps only to quieten the thoughts that we could have done something, that this was inevitable, that they could not be helped.

 Larissa died in the bath. Accidentally, we are told. The week she died (although at the time we did not know she was dead, only thought her missing), my toddler had put my husbands phone in her bath in a split second whilst i went to fetch her towels. That week was also the one in which I experienced terrible vertigo for the first time, in which i said to my husband “I’m not exaggerating when i say i might be dying”. I also suddenly desired to listen to 40s jazz, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, some of Larry’s favourites. All of these things are, now, in hindsight, signs. Signs she was dead.

 I am aware of how this sounds, and am reminded of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. In this, suffering in the wake of her husband’s death,she begins to think in strange, almost childlike ways, despite her own rational mind, “I was thinking as small children think, as if my thoughts or wishes had the power to reverse the narrative, change the outcome. In my case this disordered thinking had been covert, noticed I think by no one else, hidden even from me, but it had been, in retrospect, both urgent and constant.”

The pain of grief is staggering. The sheer depths of it, unfathomable. A tightening in the chest, an inescapable flood of sadness, the sudden need to sit up and cry. All consuming, this pain. Impossible to outrun. True, there are instances in which people claim to be fine, to be processing it all well. You yourself, dear reader, may be thinking, “I haven’t cried once since X died and I went back to work the following day”. Well let me be your harbinger. Let me stand over you and tell you it is coming. It is un-outrun-able, we cannot be strong against it. It is a tsunami, ready to plow through your life with impunity. Maybe not for months and maybe not for years but it will be here.

Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?

I am also here to tell you that to allow yourself to feel it, to stand in its dark waters, to feel the wet and cold seeping through your clothes is to weather the storm. Because when it passes (which it will, it comes in waves, remember?), clarity will come in its place. A calmness, an acceptance. The ability to recall details of your person. The way she laughed perhaps, or stood close and asked, “are we best friends?” even though she knew the answer.

The Standard on Sunset, LA. Forcing staff to take our picture as was our way.

Nothing has been permanent in these short (but somehow long, how does that work?) months. No feeling, no sentiment. Only her absence, I suppose.

I am reminded of a quote penned by musician and songwriter Nick Cave when responding to a question about how he dealt with the death of his son, “Grief is a terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non negotiable.” We cannot sidestep this pain, only weather it, like love, like life, like it all.

I continue to grieve, and will forever, for as long as I can remember her. Time won’t heal it completely but it will dull the edges of my grief, sharp and jagged and lethal as they are now. For that is what remembrance is- grieving but with the added caveat of acceptance.

Hold Death close. Feel the pain and the nuances of your sadness. Remember those you loved. Say their names and tell their stories.

Her name was Larissa Antoinette Attisso.

The only way out is through.

Pierre and Larry at our wedding, Somerset 2013.

3 thoughts on “On: Grief

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