I Was Meant To...
One week ago, we released our music video for the (sorta) title track "Carry You" from our recent record Only This Far (May 2023). We call it the title track not in the pure form that it bears the name of the album, but in the sense that it was the song that started the record in a new trajectory. We'd written a whole other record and were looking for that last song or two to complete it. We committed to a month of writing in June 2022 to find those last songs. Then, right at the start, this song happened. It toppled our plan. Which makes sense, since it is a song about grief, and grief often topples plans.
I (Mallory) am fittingly writing this at the start of what I am calling my Grief Week. It's much less fun than Shark Week, and perhaps has as much intensity as Sweeps Week. As many of you know, I lost another dear one this year-- my pal Tom, who has acted as my fill-in dad for the last two decades. He passed in July, amid our Only This Far West tour, and I was unable to get to Ohio for the funeral on time. However, my good hearted friend, Tom's wife Ann, held the burial service until we swung through in August. It was nearly two years exactly to the day when we left Ann & Tom's home in Ohio for our home in NH that I had also gotten the call that my Aunt Tammy had suddenly passed. My Aunt Tammy, who the song "Carry You" was originally written for. It seems I am always burying my dead in August. At this precise time, new family wounds had suddenly been inflicted on my two-years-passed aunt. It's been a slew of deep, trembling hurts piled on top of each other. We got home and hit the ground running, with another tour to Delaware and some local shows and trying to get the shed built before the first snow comes.
That is to say, I have not had time to properly sit and think. And sitting and thinking is an essential part of grieving, at least for me. It is an arduous, full body, isolated experience of eradicating the pain, pulling up each piece, and examining it through blurred teary eyes and an endless sense of silence. And then, it is taking those pieces and putting them down. It is deciding to carry them only this far. It is deciding that it is time to drop them-- some are lost, some are woven into a song, some are baked into a warm comforting meal, some are bound into a journal or written on its pages.
Because what you are laying down is not the memory or the kindness or the way in which your person has changed your life. It isn't taking down photographs (though it's okay if you do) or trying not to think of them. It's not repressing your feelings. It is the opposite.
It is setting yourself free from the burden of carrying your person-- however beloved-- in the way that you were responsible for carrying them as a living, timeline overlapping creature. Their timeline has expired, or at least has been shifted elsewhere. Of course you cannot carry them in the same way. You cannot call them in a way they will answer. You cannot bake them cookies that they will eat. You cannot tend to their human body needs or write them a letter they can read. It is brutally unfair. You must stop carrying them. As with my Aunt Tammy, eventually the last paperwork was filed, the autopsy report was handed over, the ashes were scattered. There was physically nothing left to carry. So what do you do with the empty space in your arms?
You liberate your person by forgiving them. Forgiving them? Yes. Because I have yet to encounter someone I truly love without also encountering a way in which they were human and-- intentionally or not-- hurt me. And then, there comes the even bigger task of forgiving them for dying, for abandoning the plans we had, for not keeping their end of the deal to answer the phone when you call them. And then, when all of that has been laid down, there is the tremendous task of forgiving yourself-- how you could have done better, called more, not gotten angry, and-- sometimes-- how you should've taken their place. Because your forgiveness is not for them anymore, it is for yourself. And the best way to carry them anew, to save what you carried before is not to trudge along forcing their memory, but to carry on changed and free and open in the space they left behind.
I don't believe that Grief Week, even with my endless supplies of rainy afternoons in New England and sad songs and heartfelt poetry, will be the end of my grief. But it is a place to start, a way to honor the loss by opening myself up to the loss. But looking at the small span of time ahead and closing the curtains and lighting candles, I feel I am releasing something back into the world-- something the world probably needs. In my hands, these shreds of my dead become bitter, become prickly, become thought loops that circle and distract and leave me unsettled. But if I lay them down as they come, they are fixed again-- floating out and becoming part of the fabric the greater timeline. And sometimes I will be very lucky-- the water will wash over my feet in such a way, or an Annie Lennox or AC/DC song will pipe unexpectedly over the radio, and something before that had no meaning at all will make my life fuller and richer for the memory.
All of this to say, go gently forward, dear friends. Carry what and who you need to. But you've only got two arms, two legs, one heart. You were never meant to or be able to carry all you love forever and always and in the same way. Only this far.