Isolation and Silence

As the ten-year mark of my father's death approaches, I'm thinking more about how grief isolates us, how even when two people, like my mother and I, experience a loss together, we are imprisoned in our  separate subjectivities.

She felt and lived something that is hers alone, that I have no right to know, that I cannot know. She also lost her mother and brother a couple of years after my father died. I can't imagine her pain. It's impossible to reach inside another person and understand all that has created them, all that haunts them.

We don't talk much about my father. It's too dangerous to touch the trauma of it, to force the painful memories to the surface. His absence is an unspoken presence in our everyday lives.

I tell her "You can talk to me. I'm here. We lived it together. I understand." But she keeps it to herself, like me. 

"I don't want to burden you," she says.

Ironically, our silence grows out of love, out of a fear of upsetting each other. But I think the silence also persists because we can't put it into words, this grief that permeates our lives. 

Sometimes, silence is the only response when you live with a wound for years. You're just trying to survive. Sharing your anguish doesn't always heal or free you. You still have to live with it whether or not you have articulated it and sometimes it's so exhausting to speak, to be comprehensible to another person.

I have noticed something interesting about my mother. While she rarely talks about her grief, she often shares posts on Facebook of photos that contain certain quotes and these quotes are, increasingly, related to grief. I explore and express grief through writing while she publicly engages in mourning by re-posting these quotes that communicate the feelings she cannot say to me or anyone else. 

Our losses have made us close but, at the same time, they have isolated us within ourselves. We break through that isolation as best we can and with what tools we have, but we are still so alienated from everything around us. 

Today, she said "I have changed and I will never be who I was ever again." 

Grief changes us and often we don't know how to inhabit the people we become when we have lost so much. We can't make sense of ourselves. We can't relate to other people in the same way, even those who know us best and love us the most. We feel so alone.  Our relationships change or cease altogether. We lose connections, we forget how to reach out or the reaching out no longer comforts us.

Loss shows us how fundamentally alone we are, how precarious our existence is, how fragile our bonds are to our loved ones. After such a confrontation with mortality and chaos, we retreat into ourselves. I know that's happened to my mother and I. Loss disfigured us. We were no longer recognizable and could not relate to other people. Family left us, abandoned us. We found solace in one another, made a little world of our own that we still live in, but even together we are separated by the distance between what we feel and what we can actually say.