I’m very late to the party here – at understanding grief in all its many outfits. It comes masquerading as a dozen different characters and fooling me into thinking that it has come to play or taunt me. Really, it has come to teach me, and not about the loss I’ve suffered – grief has come to teach me about myself. Grief sees my soul – so deeply in need of solace and comfort. That part of me that I shove away and silently shame. It is the hardest part for me to love, to embrace and acknowledge. My sorrowful soul.
Twice now (in 2016 & in 2022), kind friends have lost a daughter and I was (seemingly) the last to know. Twice now, I have failed to be sufficiently attentive to even notice that a friend was deep in pain until well into the depths of their sorrow; it just didn’t hit my radar. And when it did, I felt not only sadness, but I also felt bad for having lived in my own little bubble where I did not know about the dreadful and terrifying, sorrowful events in their lives.
In my own life, grief now lives with me – it sits in the other chair across the room and grunts or groans to get my attention. Still, I neglect its urgings to attend to it and notice the pain it brings – denial? Perhaps, but also busy-ness, distraction, and outright avoidance. If I cannot attend to my own grief, how can I possibly notice yours?
I find myself in need of studying grief’s every move and wondering, from my own seat, what it wants with me. Wondering what it will take to make it go away – and then, I realize that’s not the point. Grief will not get up and go away, it will persist until I learn to embrace it as part of my life – a part I did not invite in, but one that should not be surprising to me either.
I am discovering now that I am in, what Francis Weller calls in his book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow, an apprenticeship with sorrow. He writes, “Learning we can be with our grief, holding it softly and warmly, is the first task in our apprenticeship.” And adds a bit later, “Grief work is not passive: it implies an ongoing practice of deepening, attending, and listening. It is an act of devotion, rooted in love and compassion.”
I am moved by his words because this apprenticeship will most certainly ask me to practice self-compassion and also self-forgiveness. It is an unfamiliar course of study – one that asks that I lay aside the common wisdom from my pain-denying-culture and allow the hurt to permeate my soul. I dread the thought of that but, I also realize it is already there – sitting in my core, poking at my heart with its long, hard fingernail as a constant reminder of its presence here.
Acknowledging my own grief changes my perspective.
I am confronted with the reality that recognizing my own grief will make me change, it will –
- Alter my self-talk and cause me to see the grieving woman in my mirror with compassion.
- Allow me to understand that my tears run deeper than sadness and are not about depression, but the realization on on-going loss.
- Help me notice the sadness and sorrow in others who also cannot speak their truth yet.
- Deepen my empathy for others who also experience the ambiguous loss dementia brings.
- Broaden my sense of community with the many people also touched by similar sorts of grief.
And all of that is good, and necessary; all of that is difficult and painful and I am learning to welcome it.
We’re headed into the holiday we call, Memorial Day Weekend (May 28-30, 2022), a time when we honor and celebrate those whose deaths and departures were tied to our persistent fight for freedom. We enjoy this holiday with friends and family, sometimes with over-indulgence, masking our grief; sometimes with wreaths and graveside ceremonies acknowledging our grief.
I invite you to let this be a time when you notice the grief within you and around you. I invite you to sit quietly with it, acknowledging its presence. And again, in the words of Francis Weller, “grief is not here to take us hostage, but instead to reshape us in some fundamental way, to help us become our mature selves, capable of living in the creative tension between grief and gratitude.”
May the days ahead be filled with that gratitude for all that the soul can honor and endure.