Without connection, what are we?
This week, very suddenly, my family lost a very beloved family member. When I think about my My Auntie Viv, I remember a woman with a wicked sense of humour, hilarious conversations in Donald Duck voice and above all, a sense that I was loved in return.
A continent away, I was told that she had passed away. Yet, even though I last saw her five years ago, I immediately felt the loss in the most visceral way. It felt as though I had been sucker punched and I literally doubled over. But, why? My day to day life is the same, after all. It’s not as though I have to adjust to a life where I regularly saw her and now I don’t. So why is it that knowing she is gone is so terribly painful?
When we connect with people, I’ve realised it’s not the physical that binds us. As much as hugs and affection feed relationships (and the lack thereof can starve them to an early death), what builds relationships is all the intangible bits. The bricks that build human connection are made from love freely given, trust hard earned, laughter shared, pain soothed, hardships overcome and the security that these things are stored safely in our memory banks.
My connection with Auntie Viv spans my whole life so, of course, knowing she is gone leaves a gaping hole in my life regardless of the fact that in a practical sense, she wasn’t an active part in it.
This life I have found myself living, a continent away from my parents, siblings, cousins and many friends is a strange and difficult one at times. Exponentially so in times of grief.
Inwardly, my world has shifted seismically yet outwardly it appears the same.
It’s experiencing the extremes of life, times coloured by joy or grief, that this disconnection between my internal and external reality is glaringly clear. It is ugly and wrong. It begs to be fixed.
There is no fix.
There is no option that brings my family back together on one continent, experiencing life side by side and in rhythm with one another.
There is just the knowing and the constant and necessary reminding that my connections are not physical, not even with the people physically in my life.
Love can’t be touched. Trust can’t be caressed. laughter can’t be seen.
The love I feel across computer screens and through telephone receivers is just as real as the love I feel side by side on a couch. This, I know to be true.
Distance doesn’t have to equal disconnect.
So, in grief, I realise that the pain of being a world away is not because I feel a disconnect from Aunty Viv – my connection with her remains unchanged. That connection is stored in my brain, my heart and my cells. It’s triggered by emails and photographs. It’s there and it’s safe.
The pain is not being able to hold my mother in my arms as she deals with farewelling her sister. It’s in being unable to hug my cousins – her sons – and be there as a physical reminder of the world she impacted. It’s not standing side by side with my siblings as we remember her together and share the sadness of her loss.
Living a world away from those you love is painful because in life-stopping moments, life simply goes on around me. Living a world away steals the luxury of being able to stop when somebody dies and acknowledge that the world has irrevocably changed.
Distance is cruel that way. The world stubbornly continues to turn when my internal world has ground to a halt.
But distance is not disconnect.
My connection with those around the world as well as my connection with those no longer in this world remains strong.
Love can still be felt, long after we’ve lost the chance to touch the person who gave it.