The Opinion Engine 2.0:
Do you agree with Tennyson, that "Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all"?
Guest answer by Alynn Gibson.
Life My grandmother passed away in July after a long decline due to a dementia that robbed her of her physical vitality and her mental acuity. We had a difficult relationship, she and I, over the last six years of her life, years in which my parents and I worked to take care of her. She was difficult and emotionally distant when I was a child; in my adulthood, as she declined into dementia, she somehow became more difficult and more distant, but she also became increasingly detached from reality, which made her difficult to relate to. I had been expecting the end for six months, but when the end finally came I realized how wrong I had been the previous months in thinking the end was near; the final week of her life, her final decline, were noticeably different as her body and her mind shut down.
I thought, before she passed, that I wouldn't really mourn her -- in many ways, I'd been mourning her for years, because her dementia had turned her into someone that looked like my grandmother in body but didn't resemble her at all in mind; in other ways, I knew death would be a release for her -- but the truth is I was devastated. I sat on the stairs. I didn't just weep, I howled. My father asked me to call my siblings to let them know she was gone, and I couldn't make it through any of the conversations without breaking down. My mother asked me to say a few words at the memorial service, and despite thinking I would be fine, I had another meltdown at the podium. Despite living daily for six years with the knowledge of my grandmother's mortality, I hadn't emotionally processed it. I hadn't mourned her the way I told myself I had. As difficult as my relationship was with her, as distant as she so often was, I loved my grandmother and I was hurt that she was gone.
In my teenage years and in my twenties, my relationship with my grandparents was not close because, like a teenager, I didn't need them, I didn't relate to them, and they weren't interesting to me. When my grandfather passed away, the day Star Wars Episode I opened, I was hurt and I was sad, but it was a distant kind of hurt. In the subsequent decade, I grew up, and I grew into a person who would have appreciated his grandfather more. There are things I want to know from him today that I didn't want to know fifteen years ago. I want to know about his father Allyn, the name whose name I carry. I want to know what drew my grandfather to my grandmother when they met in the years before Pearl Harbor. I want to know what my grandfather's service in World War II, as part of the Navy's ballooning corps, was like. I want to know what my grandfather's hopes and dreams were, I want to know which dreams went unfulfilled, I want to know which dreams came true. My mother knows some of the answers, but she knows them as stories. My grandmother knew many of the answers, but her dementia robbed her of them. I knew my grandfather, I even loved him, but I knew and loved him as a kindly elderly man. Today, I wish I had known him as a person. Fifteen years ago, I was not the person who would have wanted to know these things, who would have wanted a deep and meaningful relationship with him. Today, even five years ago, I want to know all of these things -- and the sad truth is that I'll never have the answers.
One of the English language's great poems, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "In Memorium, A.A.H.," wrestles with the same problems -- of death, of loss and regret, of mourning and coping. Its two most famous lines -- "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all." -- are invariably quoted out of context today, given the gloss of romantic loss. Tennyson, however, meant the lines to be more universal; the poem as a whole was written over the span of nearly two decades as his reaction to and working through his grief for the sudden death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, and these two lines speak to Tennyson's belief that the grief one feels at the loss of a meaningful relationship, such as the one he had with Hallam, meant that one has lived and that one is still alive. Grief is a sign that we have had friends, that we have let others touch our lives, that we have touched the lives of others. Grief means that we feel, grief means that we have loved, and there is far more to love than the romantic. A life bereft of grief over its span is a life bereft of love.
I loved my grandmother. I knew her, she touched my life, however distant we may have been over the years, however frustrated I may have felt by her dementia. I wish at times I could have known her better. I wish often I could have known her husband better. I wish I hadn't pushed them away like a teenager. I wish I had worked harder to know them as people when it mattered. But I didn't, and even though I've grieved for them and mourned for them, I have regrets, and I will always have regrets. That's Tennyson's message in his oft-quoted couplet -- grief is always better than the regrets.