The Two Faces of Grief


Okay, obviously a lot more than two people. People die every day, every hour, every second. Death doesn’t take time off.

What I mean is two people died this week and I miss them, but not in the same way.

One of them was a neighbor for 26 years, the other a grandfather across the country who I never met. The neighbor knew our daughter when she was young; the grandfather just met her a little while ago.

The neighbor was a friend. He watched our house when we were away, he chatted us up about the latest gossip. He was a bigger Lakers fan than me, and that’s saying something.

The grandfather was a stranger. I knew his name but nothing about him. I know his son and his grandson, but that’s where the familiarity ended.

So, the question is, why do I miss them both?

Because grief isn’t the same as mourning.

When we mourn it tends to be short-term, intense, in the moment. Mourning is deep sorrow, black clothing, eulogies and prayers and protocols. Mourning generally happens the same way for the same amount of time for everyone.

But here’s the thing about grief.

No two people experience it alike. There is no standard process or timeline. You can’t control it or pray it away.

You can grieve for the past, for the time you had and the moments you shared. And you can grieve for the future, for the times you will never have and will never share other than in dreams.

I miss them both because I remember my neighbor’s smile, his “howdy!” each morning and his Ned Flanders perspective on the world. I miss them both because I won’t get to meet the grandfather at Thanksgiving this year or enjoy more family events with him, his grandson and my daughter.

Mourning is the present; grief is the past and the future. They are just two people, a neighbor and a stranger, but in my mind, they are connected – two infinitesimal points on the continuum of what once was and what could have been.

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