Posted by: Monideepa Tarafdar | October 2, 2009

’Tis Better to Have Loved and Lost……

Alfred Tennyson started writing “In Memoriam” after he lost his closest friend in 1833. It took him 17 years to finish this, what I can only describe as “mighty”, poem that has 131 stanzas and 524 lines. The progression of the poem mirrors his grief as it evolved, from sadness to resigned acceptance to hope and finally to the belief and yes, relief, that the natural order includes birth, death, everything in between and everything before and beyond. Tennyson calls these “our little systems”.

Our little systems have their day,

They have their day and cease to be

They are but broken lights of thee

And thou, O Lord, art more than they

17 years to come to terms with the passing of a loved one? 17 years of grieving? What did he learn that took him so many lines and years to explain? How can anyone learn anything after people they love, die?

The most overwhelming manifestation of a loved one dying is, of course, physical absence of that person. And then the overpowering wishes of wanting to spend time with them, talk with them, do things with them. And then the crushing realization that if you didn’t do this with them, say that to them or be something to them, then you can never do, say or be so, ever again. And whatever else we find easy or difficult to come to terms with, surely, this feeling of “if I had” and “never again” has got to be the one that is most crippling and pain-filled. It makes you feel like you are stuck in a dark cavern, which is so big that no matter which way you go the darkness never ends and yet which is so small that even your sound-less screams are loud enough to bounce off each and every point and corner of its walls and come back at you magnified a thousand times, with deafening silence.  You want to take your life right out of your body and end everything. Tennyson calls this “no language but a cry”.

So runs my dream, but what am I?

An infant crying in the night

An infant crying for the light

And with no language but a cry

So then, what can we do to make this not happen, to not be trapped in this cavern? After they go away – nothing. Everything has to be done before that. One and foremost, enjoy and have fun with those you love. Laugh, be affectionate, say silly things, make happy memories, so that you can say as you look back – we could not have had more fun. Two, accept them as they are, especially accept their quirks. If your wife is paranoid about the maid stealing stuff and insists on double locking every cupboard and closet so that it takes 10 minutes for you to get to the shelf you want to when you are rushing in the morning, accept that. Once you do that, maybe you can even smile instead of gritting your teeth about it. Acceptance signals respect and appreciation for our loved ones, fondness for those little things that make them what they are, and above all, relieves us of the useless bother of trying to change un-changeables. Three, learn from them. Parents, grandparents, friends, sisters, brothers – those we are closest to are the ones who most often surprise us with what we thought they didn’t know. A look, an action, a thought, an explanation, a conversation, a routine of seeing them do something everyday or week or month or year – there is much to learn from those we love. Four, facilitate. Look for situations where you can or are needed to figure things out, move things forward and make things easier. Not only in the physical and obvious ways (i.e. taking out the trash 🙂 ) but also in more hidden ways like letting dad drive and sitting next to him just so he doesn’t feel like he cannot do it anymore.

Enjoy, Accept, Learn, Facilitate. Doing all this of course means letting go of fear, anger, bitterness, worry, you-did-this-I-did-that, in-laws, yesterday, tomorrow, and throwing ourselves wholeheartedly and un-distractedly into today. It means we use every minute we can in laughing, learning, doing and being. And Tennyson calls this “love”.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

In remembering his friend in death then, he was learning how to live, in life.


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