An Open Letter to the Concept of Grief

Dear Grief, 

How have you been? Never mind, let’s cut to the chase. 

It’s been around nine months since I learnt that my Aunty Allison had brain cancer. It’s been around eight months since my Aunty Allison’s funeral. Ever since then, Grief, you have been in my thoughts and my prayers.

‘Cause Grief, you honestly terrify me. I love my Aunty Allison. From the pillowcase she knitted me to our Lord of the Rings marathons, I love her. Ever since she left, there’s been an anchor tugging and sinking my heart.

A weight of questions now sits under my rib cage. What happens when Mum or Dad dies? What happens when my Izy passes? How much weight can one heart solely bench press?

Part One: How Do We Deal With Grief?

Nick Cave
Image: Bleddyn Butcher

When thinking about Grief, my mind often turns to the musician Nick Cave. Tragically, Nick lost both of his sons, Arthur Cave and Jethro Lazenby within seven years of one another. Arthur was just 15 when he died in July 2015, and Jethro was 31 when he passed last year, in May 2022.

In 2019, Nick spoke about his own relationship with you, Grief, in relation to Arthur’s death.

“Grief is so awesome and vast and beyond our tiny selves that we really just have to kneel down to it,” he reportedly told the crowd at a concert in Brisbane, per an ABC review of the show.

“It simply is beyond us. It’s a testament to the human spirit how much we can actually feel.”

For many years, this philosophy guided me. Through a torrent of smaller griefs, Cave’s words helped make sense of my life.

But in 2023, I found myself tired of finding beauty in you, Grief. Tired of trying to grow from your presence. I was mapless, frightened of you. But that changed recently.

Part Two: Learning to Lament During Grief

Stan Grant
Image: ABC

Grief, this letter would have been a bummer if that’s where things ended. But fortunately, I have more words to write. ‘Cause just the other day, I discovered a new guide for dealing with you. It came about when reading an article by the journalist Stan Grant.

Like Nick, Stan is another man who has wrestled you more often than I have. After all, he’s a Wiradjuri man whose homeland was stolen from him. 

In an article about Anzac Day, Stan unpacks why it’s important to lament while you’re grieving. He also explains what the word “lament” means.

“We have lost the capacity for lament,” Stan writes. “In our age, we reach too soon for healing, for reconciliation.

“Lament allows us to dwell in the sadness. To live in the loss. Lament is the prayer to a silent God. Lament is the question without answer.

“Lament is the today without the promise of tomorrow. But it is not bleak. It is the hope unseen. In lament, there is grace,” he concludes.

When my Aunty Allison died, I didn’t lament her death. I was eager to work through the pain, hungry to heal my heart fast.

Reflecting on Stan’s words, I wish I’d known to give myself time to lament. I wonder if my soul would feel lighter now. I hope it’s not too late to start.

Part Three: A Conclusion

When bad things happen, how do we deal with you, my Grief? How do we bench press such sadness?

The next time you steal from me, I will have Stan’s words in my pocket. I’m not sure if they’ll work for me. I’m not sure we humans can actually deal with you, Grief. But I’m ready to give lamenting, then healing, a try.

Au revoir,
Joel Burrows

Related: Stan Grant — What We Lost When He Left the ABC

Related: Jethro Lazenby, Son of Aussie Songwriter Nick Cave, Has Died Age 31

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.