Grief touches us all. Some of it is general and obvious. Some of it is so personal it is almost invisible. I have watched networks of people create nets of sorrow and remembrance. Young people mourn the loss of a young friend with pints and stories swapped around rickety tables with greasy film. Black hats cover grey hairs in a mostly empty chapel of a nursing home. Different losses create different grief and we each mark the passing of a life in our own way.
Grief, however, isn’t simply singular. Some places are permeated with grief. In the small town of Erlangen there is a beautiful cemetery. One side is filled with traditional German graves—combinations of heavy headstones and overflowing flowerbeds. The other side held rows of solitary military crosses standing at attention under a war monument. On warm afternoons, I would stroll through the leaf-filtered sunlight and watch spider webs glitter on well-tended graves and lonely crosses.
That tiny town lost many lives to the giant wheels of war. They collected those lives into a singular memorial to the horrors of war. The town also lost individuals, to old age, accidents, sickness and rage. Sometimes the collective grief is too big for any of us to take on personally. We have to weave all the lives together, and mourn the whole. Sometimes individual grief is powerful for us to share with anyone but the dead.
No matter the scale, grief is one of the unifying human experiences. We mourn at stoic crosses and living gardens, at taverns and churches, but we all mourn the losses of our lives. We see sorrow in someone else’s face and that recognition forms a connection like a spider’s web stretching between branches of a tree.