As I experience the milestones of the first year after my dad’s passing, I find myself curious about how grief can manifest in one’s life. Whether it’s in response to the loss of a parent, child, spouse, or significant other, grief is universally messy, painful, and raw. There is no one way to navigate it. Loss will inevitably touch each of our lives; it’s necessarily part of the human experience.
Recently, I came across an interview with actor Andrew Garfield (you may know him better as Spider-Man) on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I have been following Garfield’s work with interest and curiosity, so to hear him talk about the recent loss of his own mother touched me in a particular way. What Garfield had to say about grief is bound to resonate with anyone who’s experienced loss, recently or otherwise.
Grief is unexpressed love
Garfield beautifully referred to the grief he feels for the loss of his mother as “unexpressed love.” When we grieve the loss of a loved one, a big portion of what we miss is never being able to hug or hold that person again, to laugh and smile and be silly together, to hear the sound of his or her voice.
It’s all those moments we won’t get to express our love, affection, and warmth and the end of being able to experience receiving those things from the person whose presence we are grieving.
In his heartfelt interview with Colbert, Garfield says, “I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her. And I told her every day.”
Life is sacred and short
Garfield also talks about his new movie, tick, tick…BOOM!, based on the life of theater composer Jonathan Larson, who wrote Rent, but died the night of the show’s first off-Broadway preview performance. In the film, Garfield sings a song Larson never got to finish writing.
The title of the film suggests its message: that we all have a limited amount of time in our lives. Life is sacred and so short. Garfield regards singing Larson’s unfinished song as a gift: a way to honor both Larson and his own late mother. That application of his art was a way to heal, he said. Art “[sews] up our wounds,” and true artists leave the world “in a slightly more beautiful state than when they found it.”
We don’t know how many years we will get on planet Earth, but we can make an effort to spend each day well. I think Garfield would say that is what his mom did. I know I would say that about my dad.
We never have to hide our tears
Perhaps what struck me most in Garfield’s interview was how comfortable he was in expressing his emotions. He did not hold back or even attempt to hide his tears.
The culture of toxic masculinity professes the lie that men cannot or should not express their feelings. In reality, for a man to cry is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of his humanity.
Garfield’s tears are a sign of how much he loved and still loves his mom, just as my tears almost a year after my dad’s passing are a reminder of how much he is still loved. Our tears are nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, they are a natural and honest representation of that unexpressed love.
The openness and vulnerability that Garfield displayed comforted me as I continue to mourn my dad and learn to live with the pain of not having him with me. It’s also a reminder to me that being honest and transparent about my feelings (even on a stage much smaller than Colbert) can help someone else’s burden get a little lighter. We are all on this journey of life–the ups and the downs–together. It’s better when we walk side by side.