Grief, love, and Joan Didion

eternally nostalgic

As far as thieves go, grief is the greatest one. She robs us of the people we love, but—perhaps most achingly—she zaps our ability to imagine the future. Lose a place, a person, or a love and, suddenly, measurements of time become irrelevant. Grief warps time; she renders our plans for next week and dreams for the next vacation incongruous. As Joan Didion put it in The Year of Magical Thinking: 

"We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all."

For the grieving, imagining a future day of being is a triumph over that "as we will one day not be at all" that Didion describes. Imagining the future is an act of boldness. Didion herself, in a description of her husband's desires for their shared trip to Paris, associates the wishful imagination of a future with being alive:

"He meant doing things not because we were expected to do them or had always done them or should do them, but because we wanted to do them. He meant wanting. He meant living."

My discontent with grief comes from its blocking my boundless want. By drawing strict lines between the living and those whom they lost, grief casts the world in harsh light. She makes it impossible to believe in forever. Instead, she injects a heinous pragmatism into sentiments that would rather be unadulterated by it.


My only antidote to that has been love -- the kind of love that floods every crack and fills the vacuums of loss with the promise of togetherness. I do not know Eleni and Stamati. I do not know anything about their love. All I know is that 46 years ago, on April 28, 1966, they felt something strong enough to carve it onto a brick on top of Lycabettus Hill, with all of Athens below serving as witness.

Maybe Eleni and Stamatis are now divorced. Or grieving. Or maybe they have been best friends all along. Or siblings.

What happened on April 28, 1966 on Lycabettus Hill is of little importance to me; rather, I am intrigued by Eleni and Stamatis' audacity. They left a bit of their heart printed so permanently onto a site in Athens that future travelers would have to experience it. That is the triumph of love over loss, of affection over grief, of dreaming over pain.


Like a band on its farewell tour, we loaded the car with wafers and pretzels and drove nearly 2,000 kilometers to say farewell to the country we called home and the home that housed our love. There are still wafer bits encrusted onto the map. Those were not the only tokens of the journey. Near the waterfalls of Banias, close to the Syrian border, he found a patch of wet cement. "E ♥ R" is still there.

I want us to go to Banias in 46 years. Or 32. 11? Next year? I want us to go to Banias at an undefined point in the future because love is the imagination of a future without an end point and, in that, it is a triumph over grief. I want to find us at Banias. If not the literal us, if not the "us" carved onto the cement, then the selves we once were.