The Tragedy of Grief
When you have lost something or someone that you love, you have also lost a vital part of yourself.
When my son died, a large part of me died, too. My concept of motherhood was deeply shaken. I couldn’t save my child. I walked through this world as a ghost, wondering if I would ever come back to life. Joy was absent. The hole in my heart was vast; the hole in the fabric of our family was enormous.
We couldn’t help each other. The truth is that outsiders aren’t very helpful. They suggest that you get on with it. Get over it. Move on. That sort of nonsense. I remember a woman saying, “Oh, I’d die if something happened to one of my kids.” Well, what did she think I was doing??? And nobody but nobody was willing or able to talk about it. There are only a few earth angels who can grieve with those who grieve.
One day I heard myself laugh out loud, and I was shocked. What on earth could be funny? I lived like this for seven long and hideous years, not knowing that I actually had a choice. Nobody told me! Yes, choice. And it finally comes down to that. In our grief, we become disconnected from the vital essence of our being. We can’t change what happened, but we do have the option to find our intrinsic well-being. This is the “work” of grief.
The work begins with a decision. It may come in the form of an insight or an epiphany. For me, it was a sudden “knowing” that there was nothing wrong. I remember the moment; I remember the exact place where I was sitting, when the knowing dropped into my awareness. My son was not gone or separate from me; we had always been a part of each other and we always would be. I came alive in that moment. As the great poet Rumi suggests, “My grief was my awakening.” And I made the decision to live – and to live well. This could be the most important decision of your life. It was for me.
Grief requires us to re-orient and re-connect to our essential, authentic self. It’s been there all along.
It’s just been patiently waiting for us while we were immersed in a state of self-abandonment. Yes, I
know: this is a harsh statement. It’s a hateful phrase. But it is true. Self-abandonment is a tragedy.
How so? Well, in a word, you’re not “there” for you; and given that, you’re not there for those you love. It really comes down to orienting and connecting to a part of you that you’ve never truly known. This is the great paradox that Sister Grief offers. She invites a deep dive. She invites a relationship.
Courage is the name of this part of the journey. Do you have a sense of how difficult this is? It is the journey of a lifetime, and it’s all up to you. You’ll find few if any travelling companions. Most people are terrified of you already, as if your grief is “catching”. Many folks would rather die than take this dive. Why? The answer is “fear”.
We’re terrified of what we might find in the depths. I remember collapsing in my kitchen shortly after my boy died, and I knew that if I let go, I would never come back from the madness. I’d be tied up in a strait jacket and locked up forever. Or worse. And the opportunity for healing is abandoned time and again.
I watched my dear son move through the stages of grief as distinguished by the beloved Swiss doctor, Elizabeth Kubler Ross: DABDA. Denial is the river many choose to swim in. It’s a heavy favorite. Anger is scarier and many folks, mostly men and boys, take this on as a way of being in the world. Bargaining is my personal favorite. Oh, how many times over the years I’ve caught myself wishing, “If only……………”. Depression is the sorry lot of being stuck, merged with grief and a chosen identity and way of life. Acceptance is where we finally want to land. It is what it is………………..AND there’s a choice to be made. I can feel your sigh of relief. Yes, relief is available, even joy and well-being.
So, how do we begin to re-orient and re-connect to our precious selves? It begins with intention and is followed by attention. I suggest that you write out your intention. Put it on the page. That makes it real and can re-direct you when you forget what you’re doing or have fallen into apathy. It’s like this: “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?” Your intention may shift and change over time, but it’s there to guide you.
Now you can apply some positive and loving attention to yourself! You have survived. And now you may thrive. Permission is given. An experiential process is highly recommended, since staying in our heads is rarely useful. You can work with your grief AND have an adventure, too. Experiment, blaze a new trail of interest, get curious, and reach out. I personally found great relief is sharing grief in small groups; working with teen boys and girls was so enlightening. Yes, indeed, by your pupils you will be taught! Prison was a particular favorite of mine, where vulnerable and sensitive men had the courage to tell their stories and touch in on their feelings of shame, guilt, pain, and on and on. Oh, believe me, they knew all about grief, and they were willing to go there with me. Beautiful! There’s something exquisite about shared sorrow and shared joy. They are, after all, good bedfellows.
Nature is the Great Healer. Go there! The sacred mountains and rivers on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico offered me strength. The deep kivas and majestic canyons spoke to me. I could hear the ancient ones as I inhaled the sacred sage and blessing of a medicine man who spoke in his native tongue while fanning me with a mighty eagle wing. I had taken my broken heart to a broken-hearted people. They, too, know all about grief. I was moved to form a day-camp for grieving children. Yes, in the mountains and forests, deep in the heart of Mother Nature, those young ones, too, contributed to my healing. Grief is universal. It’s a pandemic and can be found in every nook and cranny.
As Shakespeare suggested, “To thine own self be true” and kind. Count the gifts. What have you
garnered through your journey with grief? For sure, you are not who you were. You’re more. You’re
better and bigger, if you’ve done your work. Oh, by the way, it’s probably never “done”, since we’re all a work in progress. But for now, back to the gifts.
My beautiful son gave me possibly the most amazing experience a mother can have. I brought him into the world and held him as precious and priceless; and I got to hold him as he left this world – surely it was the most intimate experience of my life. Yes, indeed, I’m more than I was. Our bond through those dying days was forged and continues to thrive beyond space and time. Our love endures and lives on through me, through his brothers, his daughter, and beyond. Oneness is our truth, and this takes us full circle. While loss is certain in this life, we must not lose ourselves. That would be the ultimate tragedy.