THE MATHEMATICAL FORMULA FOR GRIEF
Unraveling the calculus behind incalculable loss
We are riddled by the calculus of loss, straining to see how it will end for us.
I, myself, as a reasoned and logical person, look to the giants for answers. Euclid. Archimedes. Newton.
They only ever provide a muddled pathway, long fingers pointing back to us, beards wagging in disappointment. Grief is your calculus, they say. It’s personal. Solve it yourself. And so, I try. She would have encouraged me before we lost her — surprising us and jolting us into the abyss of sadness. How can we go on? Where once we had words, like forever, and numbers to count things like years — happily spent and stretching out into the future — there is now only a blank page. And so, we must construct something from nothing, taking the letters, the signs, and the numbers and making math from them.
The key to solving any mathematical problem is to first identify the constants and variables that affect it and then discover the corollary relationships between them. But it is foolhardy to believe this approach can actually solve the problem; it can only characterize it, name it or make it visible. Even more confounding is the idea that this thing we are working with, and working through, is a solvable problem at all. The formula we devise, in the end, is simply a statement of facts or even of a singular fact.
And in this case, it is the fact of loss we are trying to characterize, if only to feel that we understand it, whether or not it is in the stars that we do.
As my professors used to say, let us begin. First, identify the constants. These will help us amplify or reduce the overall equation so that when applied to their relative variables, they render those variables either blindingly bright or frustratingly dark. An example would be the physical ability to be by her side and shepherd her to death with love. We either could or could not — and so this variable is merely circumstantial, as heartbreaking as it may be to say so.
Moreover, it is very puzzling that both extreme distance, say, 3000 miles, and acute proximity, where you could actually be there and hold her in your arms, are equally painful. There is also the infinite number of tears we shed, intermixed with gut-wrenching laughter related to the many moments we were lucky enough to have with her, and both must be accounted for equally. This seeming contradiction in constants is deepened by the number of people who share in our grief. For now, with what little we understand of God’s ways, we can count the distance, both physical and emotional — and sheer impact — as critical components to our formula for grief.
However, we haven’t yet considered the duration of the sorrow, which I believe we must set at infinity.
In attempting to comprehend the vastness of our loss, there may be no answer, no way to assess it or get it down on paper in any form. Yet, we see the value in sharing it, as broadly as possible, so that others who loved her — who will always love her — can simply experience that love in the way she would have wanted: Together.
Since we must include faith in any formula, the answer — if there can be an answer — is to remember all that was good and pure about her and carry those traits forward, never forgetting that she is the source of the well-intentioned change we endeavor to bring into the world. That is her everlasting gift to her partner, her children and their children, and all the people she touched and inspired.
We recognize, too, that we must fight, as she taught us to, the thief called despair, who takes positive constants and imposes his negative forces.
We can take comfort in the belief that any mathematical formula for grief contains the element of courage, to rally against the negativity of woe, creating instead something new in its path.
This new thing, exponential love, can be graphed against a timeline that knows no boundaries. It transcends the present and contains a power that equals a hundred suns, even as the light comes twinkling to our eyes from a very great distance, away in the stars.
And so, we have devised the formula, at least for now, which is all we can ask. The giants are nodding in agreement. But what do they know? They get to live forever.