So it is with grief, or at least the grief that comes from unexpected trauma. I keep waiting to be told it's all a mistake. Arthur's fine, actually, he didn't die on Sunday, he's about to meet my eyes with his typical impatient affection: What took you so long? The idea that this is my life now, that there are no other options, is too vastly awful to fit inside my comprehension. I don't think it's active denial so much as absolute inability to believe. I am finding quite a lot of substages within the Kübler-Ross framework, possibly including a few that Kübler-Ross never even considered.
These are the times when we turn to poetry: about suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters. I can't yet manage Elizabeth Bishop's feigned ease, but Saeed Jones's "A Spell to Banish Grief" offered something I needed. Most of all my brain returns to Emily Dickinson's "After great pain, a formal feeling comes"—which I had to write about in ninth grade and accidentally learned by heart. The words lose none of their truth for being familiar, worn smooth like worry beads. But it's the rhythm that, for me, most conveys the experience of loss. The shifts in meter, the lines thudding abruptly short, the pauses—this is how time and meaning slip around you, as though on badly uneven gears.
To keep this at least semi-relevant to Notebook Thursday, I will add that Dickinson scholars have identified several different dashes in her handwriting. They're variously rendered as em dashes or spaced en dashes in print, though she may have intended a distinct meaning or sound for each. The Dickinson Archive has images of her handwritten pages, though none of them are loading at present (and I've tried! with two gadgets and three browsers! so I do not imagine that link will help anyone!). But an image search can still pull up the last stanza, at least. The dashes there are sharp little penstrokes surrounded by wide spaces. I wonder if those are the serrated breaths of grief, the vast empty pauses of incredulity.