The ongoingness of it all
For Swarnali Mukherjee
Do not surrender your grief so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few human and even divine ingredients can. Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender, my need for God absolutely clear.
Bereavement has required that we exist in an interminable phase of self-renewal; it is ongoing, this grappling with painful shadows and spells of malaise, this fathomless disgorgement of sorrow from body and heart, this impossible agony we have learned to live with. It has been twelve months since our son died.
The constant spectre of despair stalks my private moments. One must reckon with the fact of ongoing turmoil in bereavement, for it cannot be uprooted or shifted; that despair is simply a part of me now, and I do not know who I would be today without it. The ongoingness of it all is a process of making-real.
Despair has augured a fervid and audacious volatility to life: it situates one at the precipice of a black abyss that few will dare approach — even in the name of friendship, even in the name of God.
And yet it is here, living on the brink of despair, that the truth of eternal love has become my reality. For the heart that burns with grief is the heart that remembers to abide in eternal surrender; and my faith in that which is deathless is what sustains my life as I face my loss anew with every passing day.
“I am convinced that we only run in circles between two touchpoints of hope and despair all our lives.”
Certain words signify states of consciousness that are impossible to describe to the uninitiated — ‘grief,’ ‘recovery,’ ‘motherhood,’ ‘surrender’ — for such terms convey subjective realities that live and grow inside of oneself through experience. This is what I mean by the process of making-real: experience transforms the prior concept into a lived reality, an expression of one’s unique presence behind the mask of identity.
Empathy is a natural quality of expression if one has gone through the pain of making-real, for lived experience is the terrain on which connection grows. Genuine empathy seldom reveals itself in words: it is expressed through action and gesture, through presence and connection on the emotive level.
But when words are summoned into this state, they are words of power — words that transform their reader or listener into a state of deep knowing, words that betray their author’s knowing of what lives beyond the illusion we speak of as death.
“Death has a penchant for victory where human suffering reigns. Death threatens us with the possibility of our non-existence. But death is a friend to those who surmount their circumstances to survive. Death comes mercifully to those who death regards as worthy, and violently to those who death resents. Death is the master of its unfoldings.”
Perhaps I am writing this partly for you, and partly to invite the undespairing into the world we are weaving when we write through and from our anguish in order to express the love that really moves us.
The permutations of despair are many and sordid. I have only scraped its surface, only glimpsed at the horrors that cavort in this infernal state of mind, never quite succumbing to the depths of despair (for I am well-loved and supported in my times of crisis). Depressives are on intimate terms with despair; so too are prison inmates, peoples displaced by war, monks living in seclusion.
Despair has no polemic: it is not a social thing, not a class thing, not even a spiritual thing. It is what life gives us to attenuate ourselves with the presence of death, the great haunting that forces itself upon us so that we may realise how plastic our notions of self really are. It is a void of meaning that is worse than death, the dark night of the soul.
In despair, the living self becomes unravelled — there is nothing left to live for. No aspirations, no desires, no identity; all of these are consumed in the furnace of shame before entering the pit of despair, the shame that eclipses and burns everything you think and know of yourself.
Prepare to pass through hell. The sole population is you, haunted by everything you have lost and failed to do in life. All you have to comfort you is the sting of blame: a conviction you carry down into pit with you that this is someone else’s fault, that you don’t belong here.
That burning is savage. It is the incineration of hope, the obliteration of goodness. No transcendent qualities survive this hellfire. Your heart is polluted by the very fumes of you burning and you become the evil of your innermost fears: your words, your thoughts are the shadows of your own; you are contorted, in the totality of your being, by the extent of embodied suffering.
Now conscience wakes despair
That slumberd, wakes the bitter memorie
Of what he was, what is, and what must be
Worse; of worse deeds worse sufferings must ensue.
— Milton, Paradise Lost. Book IV, 23-26.
For those who know it — those who have been there — the experience of despair is both a literal and figurative hell realm. Milton’s Satan falls into the hell of his own mind, creating a place of self-abetted yet unending torture.
Horror and doubt distract
His troubl'd thoughts, and from the bottom stirr
The Hell within him, for within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step no more then from himself can fly
By change of place.
— Milton, Paradise Lost. Book IV, 18-23.
This is an accurate rendition of the psychopathology of despair. Though the hellscape is basically imaginary and a projection of one’s own mind, it is nonetheless experienced as real, and perpetuates itself as a living reality through the ideation of violence towards self and others. Despair is the mood of death: succumbing to it, resisting it — from every action that arises from despair, more suffering follows.
Me miserable! which way shall I flie
Infinite wrauth, and infinite despaire?
Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav'n.
— Milton, Paradise Lost. Book IV, 73-78.
This is the hell that I know best: the hell of self poised between anguish and despair, contorted inwardly and infernally by the caustic delusion that life has forsaken me and that this world is loveless. In bereavement I have fully experienced the hopelessness and horror of despair, but that state of consciousness is not home to me.
Let me tell you about the gilded rope suspended by a loving hand from the bright world above. Let me tell you about the light that shines into the depths of that abyss in my darkest moments, the light that love and friendship bring.
Let me speak of salvation: when the moment of truth arises that suffering, even at the fulcrum of its extremity, is only ever transitory. This is the power of empathy — the rope that wends one back to life from the darkness of despair, the salve that heals the ongoingness of grief in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.
Let me boldly speak of angels: people just like you, who have abundant words of love to share with those in need of salvation. Those who possess the power to draw laughter from the well of tears, hope from the chasm of despair, peace from the strain of confusion and turmoil. The last year has shown me that angels are everywhere.
So let me thank every angel who has helped to alleviate the pain of bereavement: those embodied, those invisible, and those who have chosen to love me in secret. Every gesture and intimation of your caring has kept me steady on the precipice that merges heaven and hell.
It is what has kept me here. This I know to be true.
I think this is one of your best pieces yet. You’ve bottled the feeling of despair with words in a way that I think people who—luckily—haven’t experienced it, can also get a glimpse of it.
Again, thanks for sharing your soul. ❤️
This piece is a gift I adore best than any gift I ever received. I'm weeping with it. I'm going to keep it close to my heart. The wisdom delivered from the depth of inundated suffering, the lifting of veil from the face darkness, the boundless overflowing empathy, and the constant company of prayers received, I'm deeply grateful for what you chose to give so freely. There is so much more, you have given me, that I cannot put my finger on but I embrace all of it, with all my heart.
If words were meant to do anything, it was meant to do what you did with it. It is meant to help, love, and show, all who need it. I'm eternally grateful for your presence. May my warmth for you be expressed in all elements of nature that touches you today in your beautiful home. May the water carry my tears to you, and the wind whispers my prayers, may the earth that you sit on be my loving embrace, may the trees gives you the protection of all my gurus and may the food you eat be their blessings. May divine grace be your constant medicine. 💜