What I Learnt About Grief From Music Legend Nick Cave
The rock star's take on beauty after loss has changed my perspective forever.
I lost my father to cancer four years ago this month. And, as the experts all say, it has become easier over time. The pain is still there, I miss him like hell, and I'll never be the same person as I was before he died. That is just a fact. Losing a loved one changes you forever.
But little by little you do get used to the new normal. And while you begin the grieving process with them constantly living in your mind, somewhere that changes slightly and your mind relaxes, letting other thoughts in, letting you not think about them as much, letting you not feel guilty for that.
Grief is hard, but it gets less so.
And now I've heard another side of grief that explains it more than I ever could. And it came from a surprising source. Nick Cave. Yes, he of Australian music legend. The prickly, laconic, terrifying, menacing genius whose songs are about God and death and drugs and anger and, well, things you aren't quite sure of.
Because grief has changed Nick Cave, and how it's changed him is so moving.
For Cave, who I have loved for many years, the grieving process has been public. He and wife Susie and son Earl, lost Earl's twin brother Arthur in a terrible accident in 2015 when Arthur fell from a cliff in Brighton.
This week I saw him In Conversation... and a woman asked him about the tragedy and how it had affected him.
What he said was spot on. “There is something that exists beyond the trauma," he said, adding that there is beauty in what comes next, which is not something you normally hear. “It’s difficult to say and it’s a difficult realisation to come to,” he recognised.
Yes, few are brave enough to say it, but good things DO come out of death, for sure. Close relationships are tested and strengthened, people get a sense of bravery and bravado that can see them change their lives. For me, it made me step out of my comfort zone -- travel more, for starters, not be so scared of doing things by myself -- and it helped me reconnect with friends I hadn't seen in years. And after grief, great art is made. Not by me, necessarily, but by some people.
And definitely by him.
He released a movie -- One More Time With Feeling -- in 2016, which, though it was ostensibly about the making of the "Skeleton Tree" album, showed his family coping with their loss, clinging to each other in parts, seeming lost in others.
And it affected me -- and millions of other people. And most of all Cave himself.
“You know, I saw the things people wrote about the film on social media,” he said at the time, “... the way the film seemed to open something very deep for people, and how so many people out there had lost people they loved, you know, just how many grievers there were. It was a very powerful feeling, and ultimately shifted something in me, and Susie too, and stopped us feeling so completely hopeless all the time."
Suddenly, Nick Cave, terrifying, scary, gothic Nick Cave, all black suits, black thoughts and black hair, became a warm human. A man. A man who felt things, who hugged strangers who came up to console him in the supermarket. And it showed me that grief didn't just change me, it changes everyone.
Even terrifying punk heroes have feelings.
And he's opened up about it more and more. In a letter on his website The Red Hand Files, when asked about his grief, he said, "It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined."
Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.
Nailed it. We're changed forever, and it's all thanks to them. Grief is hard -- some days it sneaks up on you and hits you about the head for no apparent reason. But if we keep our loved ones close and talk to them, they can actually help us move forward.
I speak to my dad all the time. I tell him what I'm doing, where I am going, how much I'm missing him. I sometimes even ask him for help finding a parking space. I figure he has a bird's eye view.
And, like Mr Cave, I'm doing my best to navigate the changed world in which I have been left, knowing I'm not the only one doing it
Feature image: Getty