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Why grief is not the enemy

Why grief is not the enemy

The only thing we have to teach ourselves (and our children) is to endure pain. Allowing all that grief to go through you, means to maintain a kind heart. A heart that is able to love again, to open up – even if that means it might get hurt.

In the movie Call me by your name, inspired by André Aciman’s beautiful novel (it’s one of my all time favourites), there’s a beautiful, touching monologue. A father witnesses the silent, but heavy lovesickness his adolescent son Elio is going through. The father puts away his book and glasses and looks him in the eye. He doesn’t say: ‘It’s just puppy love.’ He doesn’t say: ‘Hush, don’t be sad.’ Nor does he say: ‘There’s more fish in the sea.’

What he says is something like this: ‘If you’re in pain, just feel it. Grieve for what you’ve lost, or you won’t find anything at all. We throw away so much in order to heal quicker than possible – by the time we’re thirty, we’re bankrupt. Every time we start a new relationship, we have less to offer. Hurt, my boy, but remember the happiness too.’

Handling discomfort

It’s the best advice anyone could ever get. Emotional pain doesn’t require an immediate antidote. Most pain isn’t unbearable, doesn’t damage us, doesn’t last forever. Every time we close ourselves off from the pain, we avoid practicing handling discomfort and grief. We’re less and less able to do it and, in the end, we focus on escaping and denying pain.

The price is high. It requires an armoured heart. If you want to avoid soul pain to reach you at all costs, and you try to combat it with every strategy you can find, deep joy is unable to reach you too – because it bumps into the same armoured heart. In the end, nothing can really get to you anymore.

This is how you maintain a kind heart

All we have to teach ourselves (and our children), is to endure pain. If we take care of our emotional wounds, they are able to heal, in their own time. The reward for letting all that pain go through you is that you keep a heart that’s soft and kind. A heart that is open to beauty, emotion, wisdom and the art of life. A heart that is able to love again, and willing to be open – even if that means it might get hurt. A heart full of chambers that you have occupied and that you know well.

The last shot in Call me by your name takes minutes. We see the son, a little older now, staring into the fireplace, minutes after he found out how his lover got engaged to a woman (he fell in love with a young man). At first, there’s a deep pain reflecting in his face, then tears well up in his eyes and in the end, there’s a little smile. He’s still able to touch the happiness he experienced before.

I sighed with relief. Elio’s heart remained kind.

Text: Susan Smit – Photo: Matthew Henry

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