In the film Wives and Daughters, and the book by Elizabeth Gaskell which inspired it, Squire Hamley lives through the deaths of both his wife and his eldest son. He's a proud man, whose pride is greater than either his education or his purse. But each of these deaths, coming as they do at the beginning and the end of the story, change him in significant ways. The first hardens him; the second softens him. We see in the squire (perfectly portrayed by Michael Gambon in what I consider to be one of the greatest performances on screen) a complete character transformation. He is changed, but we still recognize him. In fact, we see him all the more clearly.
Grief does that to a person. It uncovers them.
Today I went to a memorial service for a woman I never knew. Before the service started, her two year old son found his way up to the podium, pacifier in his mouth, and began to wail. It occurred to me more than once from then on that wailing would be right in such a space, at such a time.
We don't do that, of course. We don't wail, nor do we hire wailers. We do not beat our chests in the street or cover ourselves in sack and ash. It's not a part of our culture. And I'm not suggesting that it should be. There's a moment when, like the squire, we open wide our wailing, spurning the dinner set before us, and cry, "He…will never eat again!" But we still find ourselves downstairs the next day, answering the mail and making arrangements. Because we go on. Our hearts are battered, but they are not broken. Not for good. "Nay, nay. It's not so easy to break your heart. Sometimes I wish it were. No, we have to go on living 'all the appointed days.'"
We go on living. Beauty and joy are a little sweeter for having known the dark days. And dark days are a little less forbidding because we've traveled them before. We were never promised easy lives. We were promised exactly this. Living, stained with tears.