Does grief give anything back?

I keep thinking I will write no more blog posts, that I have nothing more to give, and then a thought snags and I have to explore it, as much for myself as anyone else.

So here goes. I want to talk about Hawking radiation.

Hawking what?

Okay, I’m back to the geeky physics stuff. Let me explain.

Grief is like a black hole

woman s hand using a pen noting on notepad
Photo by Kaboompics .com on

A few week’s ago, I was thinking about how one-way communication is after someone has died. I keep thinking of things I want to tell my sister, and I do tell her. I write her letters in my diary. If I’m alone in the car, I move my bag off the front passenger seat to make room for her and talk to her out loud. I update her on what’s going on, tell her about the kids, share my worries.

I tell her all the things I would tell her if she was still alive, but she doesn’t reply. I get nothing back. I had an image of death being like a black hole that sucks in all the love I still feel for my sister, all the things I tell her in whispers and thoughts.

By definition, a black hole is an object where gravity is so strong that anything in the vicinity will be pulled into it, even light. That’s why it’s black, of course.

And death can feel like that, pulling in your energy, love and thoughts and giving nothing back.

What about Hawking radiation?


The image seemed quite bleak and appropriate to the way I was feeling and I would have left it at that, but a quiet, inner voice asked, “What about Hawking radiation?”

Hawking radiation is a theory proposed in 1974 by Stephen Hawking, the well-known English cosmologist who was confined to a wheelchair due to motor neurone disease. After exploring the theory of black holes, he suggested that, due to quantum effects, they might not be completely black. Instead they would have a faint glow due to the emission of radiation. This radiation would cause the black hole to lose mass until it ceased to exist in a last burst of intense radiation.

Of course, this is theory. No-one has actually observed Hawking radiation and the level of radiation predicted is, in most circumstances so small that it would be very difficult to observe.

But it’s a comforting and challenging thought. A black hole seems like the ultimate symbol of grief and yet, maybe even black holes give something back.

Does grief give anything back?

american robin animal avian bird
Photo by Andy Bear Grills Barker on

And just like a black hole, maybe grief does give something back.

My sister is no longer here to respond, but does that mean that all the love and thoughts and prayers for her are lost?

Maybe it’s like Hawking radiation. I won’t get a direct answer from my sister, but perhaps I’ll notice and appreciate something else: a robin at the bird feeder, a patch of blue sky on the shortest day of the year, my dog laying her head on my lap.

Or maybe I’ll notice that someone needs me and be able to respond to that.

What do other people think?

All that friction

red ford focus vehicle driving on sand under blue daytime sky
Photo by Vincenzo Malagoli on



Today, I’m going to admit to being a geek and share some of my enthusiasm for physics. Yes, it does have some relevance for faith so please be patient.

Why don’t things keep on moving?

One of the hardest things for those new to physics to understand is Newton’s first law of motion: I’ll try to put it in plain English.

An object which is not moving will remain still while an object which is moving will continue to move at the same speed and in the same direction UNLESS an unbalanced force acts on it.

Before your eyes glaze over and you click this post shut, I’ll try to unpick this. Newton’s first law is quite extraordinary. What it says is that if something is moving, it should go on moving in the same direction and at the same speed forever UNLESS a force acts on it.

Okay, you don’t need to be an expert in physics to know that nothing goes on moving at the same speed for ever. If you kick a football, it will arc into the air, it’s speed changing, until it falls back to the earth and comes to a halt. If you drag a heavy bag across the floor, it will stop moving as soon as you stop pulling it.

However, if you were living in space, you would be able to see Newton’s first law in action. Once the space shuttle has got into space, it hurtles around the earth at a speed of 17000 miles per hour even though its engines are switched off. If you threw a ball outside your spacecraft, it would keep on moving at the same speed, basically forever, unless it bumped into something which changed its speed or direction.

Friction explained

Why do objects behave so differently in space and on earth? When we walk or drive over ground which isn’t perfectly smooth, there is a force trying to stop us moving. This force is called friction. It means that we have to keep on putting in effort to do things. If we stop tugging the case, it won’t move. If we don’t keep moving our muscles to put one leg in front of the other, we won’t get anywhere. If we stop pushing down the accelerator which keeps the engine going, our car will roll to a halt.

Sometimes it might seem tempting to wish that we lived in a world without friction. It’s easy to imagine a world where we could step on the pavement and glide down the road without any effort, or where our cars rolled along without having to burn expensive fuel.

Fancy a world without friction?

two girls ice skating
Photo by on



A world without fiction would be nice, wouldn’t it? Maybe not. Think ice.

A smooth expanse of ice is the closest we get on earth to a friction-free situation. If we step on ice wearing ordinary shoes, we will glide along for a few feet but probably end up falling on our behinds. If we manage, somehow, to keep our balance, we won’t get anywhere fast as we’ll just slide around without going in the direction we want to. It’s the same with cars. No-one wants to drive over a patch of black ice as it’s likely that their car will skid out of control.

Friction might seem like an annoying waste of energy, but the truth is that we need something resisting our motion so that we keep on moving forward in the right direction. In situations when there isn’t enough friction, we need to increase it. For instance, in a snowy area, we can fit tyres with a thicker tread in the winter. I once had the opportunity to visit an underground glacier. To walk on its slick surface, I had to strap crampons over my shoes which bit into the ice creating traction.

The friction of daily life

All this got me thinking about the friction of daily life: all these wee household jobs which have to be done every day, your child’s moods, your spouse’s nagging, the elderly neighbour who needs a visit when you have a hundred things to organise.

And then there are the times in life when you face such huge obstacles that you hardly seem to move at all: the illness of a family member, losing a job, having to move out of your home, school or workplace bullying.

Rather than wishing these difficulties and sufferings away so that we can make rapid progress towards what we think is our goal, should we actually be grateful for them? Like real-life friction are all these apparent challenges actually the force which keeps us steady and balanced. Are they what stops us falling over or sliding off in the wrong direction? Without them, would our strength fail and our faith stagnate, just like unused muscles in a frictionless world?

I don’t know, but it’s worth thinking about.