Letter From My 48th Year (February 4)
I spent the afternoon with E and with Hamlet. It had not really struck me before that the entire play is saturated with grief. I knew Hamlet was grief-stricken, of course, but I hadn’t quite considered the magnitude to which nearly every single character in that play acts out of grief. I hadn’t considered that Gertrude marries her brother-in-law not out of lust, but out of a need to flee her grief at losing her husband. Even Claudius’ jealousy is a type of grief, the grief of not having ascended to the level of power or the type of love that his brother has.
Grief is about so much more than a death of a person; it can also be the death of trust; it can be the loss of a certain point of view about how the world works. Hamlet is able to love Ophelia initially because he believes his mother loves his father. When he questions that relationship he’s always taken as a given, he loses his ability to trust women, and brings even more grief upon himself, losing Ophelia first emotionally, and then physically.
Grief is also a reckoning (“To be or not to be…”): who are we because of who we’re grieving? Who does grief turn us into? What does grief break in us? This idea of grief as reckoning feels especially important to me when I think of my father’s death. I’m not mourning the time we spent together because we simply didn’t spend that much time together. I have no rituals or habits to carry on with without him. But I am reckoning with who that relationship has made me; absence shapes us as much as presence. I’m reckoning with how I’m experiencing that loss specifically because he was my father and I was his daughter. I’m looking at who I can be apart from my father. And what kind of daughter I can be now that we’re past the point of no return.