Today I’m thinking about grief.
No, friends, no one close to me has died.
No beloveds have breathed their last recently, thank all the stars in the twinkling heavens.
Two people in our rural community have tragically passed on recently, though. A few acquaintances suffer with cancer, dreaded runaway cells spreading havoc in their bones and organs.
In our larger world conflict and strife continue to box in the ring of despair. Mothers weep as children die in faraway countries. Fathers sometimes angrily demand revenge.
Grief proves a constant companion to us life-travelers if we’re sensitive, if we don’t shut down to its constant knock upon our weary door.
I shut down, don’t you?
It’s too hard to bear the grief of living on an angry hurting planet sometimes.
The latest issue of Whole Living magazine features an article about grief. It’s called “The Long Goodbye” by Laura Fraser. She writes about her mother’s unexpected death, and questions about grieving in today’s fast-paced world.
She talks about “slowing down to make time and space for grief”. She speaks of the need for time to heal, to grieve, to sit with death’s blow. She laments that one or two weeks after her mother’s death everyone treated her as if she had a bad case of the flu.
She ponders whether sharing on Facebook–with its instant overwhelming condolences–was appropriate. The impact of friends who took the time to mail a card, sit down, recollect her mother’s presence ended up meaning so much more as the weeks and months passed.
She shares lessons she’s learned about comforting other friends who have lost a loved one. She saw how so many want to skip over the discomfort of death, want to reassure that everything is all right, make trite nuances which try to dismiss the pain and suffering.
She felt so much better when people asked questions like “What kind of person was your mom? What type of work did she do? Are you like your mom? Did she have a sense of humor?”
I want to remember this when accompanying a grieving friend. To provide space for my friend to remember his loved one. To give her an opportunity to talk about that special person who laughed, who screwed up, who sang, who danced, who made cherry cobbler and who now lies buried under earth’s soil and exists no more in the same immediacy, the same instant responsiveness.
Years ago I attended a writing workshop offered by Martin Prechtel in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, down there in amidst sulphur springs and red desert soil and howling coyotes.
As a half blood Native American with a Pueblo Indian upbringing, his life took him from New Mexico to the village of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. He writes with flowery spiritual passion and writes perfumed sentences that leave you swooning in honeyed delight. (Read his books Secrets of the Talking Jaguar or Long Life Honey in the Heart if you don’t believe me.)
Although I am not going to remember his exact words, please forgive me, Martin…he once attempted to describe the deep need for grief ceremonies in our lives.
He said that when a Mayan villager died it was often necessary to hire women who were known to be emotional. Their job was to insure the mourners cry, weep, despair, grieve deeply.
It was necessary to cry enough tears to fill a lake so that the dearly departed could row his or her canoe all the way to the “other side”.
Our society rarely honors grief in this way. You’re supposed to let go quickly, realize your loved one is in a “better place” and suppress any desire to wail, to weep, to hold tight to memories in an “unhealthy” way–at least for too long.
Years ago, feeling such a deep belief that life continues after death, I might have brushed away grief way too quickly.
Now I feel the importance to allow the heart time and space to grieve. To honor the preciousness of the way the Universe materialized in a magnificent human being for a firefly spark of a lifetime. It is such a short time, isn’t it, my friends, even while it seems longs during the ever-changing seasons of one winter following another?
What have you learned about grief? What can you share with us about how to relate with others who have lost dear ones?
This is such an interesting coincidence, Kathy, as I too have been pondering grief and mourning and sorrow that comes from the loss of those we love and hold dear to our hearts. Last year, I went to four different funerals – it was definitely a year for grieving and letting go – and I suspect that, as I grow older, I will need to face those painful emotions more and more… Your words and photos are profoundly touching… Thank you, Kathy.
Reggie, it’s interesting we’ve both been thinking about this. Yes, I too suspect we will have to face these painful emotions more and more. Sigh… Thank you for pausing here.
I’ve found that it might be important for me to make space and to pay attention to the things I grieve over. The same as I make a daily list pertaining to my defects of character. I’ve found that if I do not make a list of the things over which I grieve, I stuff whatever it is and it moves into being expressed as a defect in my character. Expressing grief is just as important as expressing gratitude. Maybe more so. Expressing half of a gratitude to cover up grief is one of the most awful things that I can do to myself, and probably, in turn, to others. I have found it helpful to follow, on purpose, the idea of wailing for departed persons, and sometimes things, for a prescribed period of the day. It would be considered odd to cover me in ashes, but I have cut my hair as a part of my wailing process. Thank you for this list. Why has expressing sad or grief come to be equated with negative and smiling till my face is a statue with no meaning behind it, as positive? Very odd. Substance, to me, is important.
Elisa, thank you for always faithfully reminding us that it’s not all about the smiling until our face is a statue. It’s sometimes about wailing and cutting hair and honoring our heart’s tears. I so appreciate you.
This is a beautiful and important post, Kathy. Thank you for it. When my sister Annie died, my mother, after caring for her for 51 years, was immediately thrust into caring for my father who was rapidly becoming disabled with Alzheimer’s. She never had time to grieve. And it nearly did her in, I think. I reminded her then, and I continue to talk about it some today, three years later. She needed time to grieve. Losing Annie was a tremendous loss for her. She never really got the time, but time has passed, and now she is able to talk about Annie with joy.
I relate most to your statement, “Grief proves a constant companion to we life-travelers if we’re sensitive, if we don’t shut down to its constant knock upon our weary door.”
Christine, thinking of your mother and wishing that she’d had time to grieve properly for your sister. It is all so hard, I think, at times. My heart is already half-grieving about the prospect of losing loved ones, especially my mother and father who are approaching 80. Can’t imagine how much that will hurt. That’s a blog I would have wanted to write–my fear of their death. But can’t…
… one single leaf, one single thought to capture the heart… Perfect image.
Thank you, Poetjena. And one perfect comment to express one beautiful heart…
Kathy, this is a valuable post. People do tend to hurry up their grief and I think it’s harmful to their souls and spirits. And the hurrying does not honor the person who has died. It does not honor their life. I went through a period in my life about 12-13 years ago, when numerous people who were close to me, suffered tragic accidents and illnesses, and died. 9 loved ones in the span of less than 2 years. And then my Mom, suffered a long and horrible illness before dying 2 years after that. Along with that, there were other factors of “loss” happening as well, a sick infant, strike at work, loss of health benefits and pay, disability, having to move, my own illness, and the end of my marriage. It shook my world and I was left with a shattered heart and a broken spirit. It took medical care and therapy to recover and during that time of recovery I learned to face my grief and allow it to run it’s full course. It was painful, but healing. I learned ways to honor the grief and the lives of the people I loved and lost…as well as the hopes and dreams I lost. I learned to create ways of ritual to honor each loss, using writing, prayer, meditation, music, art and nature. It took a long time but now, after this long, I can look back and see that it helped and it healed. And it continues to help me cope with loss today.
Oh Brenda–nine loved ones in the span of less than two years! I can’t imagine what all that grief did to your spirit. So much loss. I am glad you were able to integrate your grief and honor it. The rituals sound very helpful. To be able to be that present with your sorrow is an amazing strength. Thank you for sharing your story.
You’re welcome Kathy….it was a very difficult time and I didn’t know how to cope. And my falling apart didn’t help anyone else either, especially in my family. So, it was a devastating time on many levels. But we made it…with God’s grace and with hard work, we made it. I made it. And I can say that even though life is still hard, it is amazing and I am grateful beyond words. ♥
What an important post! This is something we all have to deal with and it seems that some do a better job than others – at least on the outside. I worry about a person who hurries the process – as if there is some lottery prize for the quickest “healing”. How sad that is.
Since comforting a person with a loss is sometimes a real struggle (like what do you say?) those questions you posted are so thoughtful. I will remember that. Thank you.
When my mother died, I cried til I plain ran out of tears. I wrote her many “unsent” letters, journaled til the wee hours of the night. I reached a point of acceptance somewhere along the way and though to this day (for 29 years) I still miss her, I whisper thank-you’s to her for her wisdom, her patience and her utter goodness. Never did I hear her say a bad thing about anyone. I am so not the saint she was but her example lives on and I might feel the clamp of her hand on my mouth from time to time – I’m sure it’s her! 🙂
SuZen, this post kind of surprised me yesterday. I had no idea it would be the day’s topic. Guess plenty of us needed to share our stories and thoughts about it. I can not imagine losing my parents, and yet they are approaching 80. Thinking about how special your mother was, and that you still whisper thank you and think of her with such compassion–and that she may even guide you still. Bless you for sharing this.
So very beautiful! This is something to share with others. Thank you for doing this so well.
Lucinda, I am glad this felt helpful to you. For some reason the topic of grief just welled up yesterday. Blessings to you.
Kathy – Such a thoughtful post, thank you. I especially resonate with your observation, “Now I feel the importance to allow the heart time and space to grieve.” And the “spirit in the stone” photograph absolutely pulled at my heartstrings.
Do you remember seeing that photo of the spirit in the stone from long, long ago, Laurie? I’ll never forget the day that I took that pic along the beach. Was thinking of the sweat lodge, the gifts and challenges of it, and took the photo of that sweat lodge stone. Was so shocked to see the spirit of the stone reflected when the photo was uploaded. It wasn’t my reflection–I was kneeling and this spirit is standing. Such a gift!
I thoroughly appreciate the reminders in this post, and how you express them. Grief is something that is on the peripheries of my thinking-mind a bit too much. My dog, for instance. I know that he will pass at some point, and it’s almost like I am already feeling that tenderness in the joy that I feel for him.
Even as that is true, I don’t know how well I take the time to “feel” grief when it does happen. A dear friend’s mother passed recently, and she was close to me. I felt “off” for days after finding out, but I was thousands of miles from where she was and had not seen her in some years. When I went to visit her son recently, I got an opportunity to sit with many of her old books and special objects that she had left him. It brought on so many tears and feelings; it was like I finally had the space to really feel the feelings. Now I feel more resolved when I think of her, I feel a sense of peace. It is such a strange emotional process, isn’t it? Wow.
Jennifer, you bring up a really good point here. That sometimes, perhaps, we need a special “space” in which to grieve. Sometimes grieving in the midst of running to the grocery store, working, doing daily chores just doesn’t allow the memories, the release, the gratitude, the wholeness of a person’s life and death to arise to the surface. It is a strange emotional process. And so unique for every individual and situation. Thank you so much.
Kathy, even your well-chosen images get me thinking. This is such a helpful post.
It felt kinda thoughtful to be writing it yesterday, Sybil. Glad it was helpful and that the images spoke, too. I went a’searching in the old blog photos to look for pics which might help express these feelings. Thank you.
I’ve learned more than I care to know about grief and the grief process since the death of our son.
Rebecca, I can’t imagine the grief of losing a precious child. In fact, it feels almost impossible to type another sentence–what do you say to a mother who has lost a son? Just sitting here for a moment with tears. Bless you…
I’ve thought a lot about this and have only concluded that responses to loss are very individual and that no one has the right to dictate to another how to grieve or how long to grieve. People DO need to talk about those they’ve lost, and how can there be a time limit set on that? One of my husband’s cousins still posts on Facebook when she’s missing the TWO sons she lost (one a year after the other), and family and friends respond with sympathy, and I hope that helps her, because can we even begin to imagine the pain of losing two children? The whole phrase “get on with your life” rubs me the wrong way. Grieving is sometimes what living demands.
Pamela, you are so right. Grieving is what living requires–a good way to put it. And we’re all so different. One person may be able to reconcile to deep loss in a way that others might need years. Can not imagine the pain of losing two children. I only know that–hopefully–I will watch when I start to shut down with fear or grief or sadness and perhaps learn to be more present. Thank you.
Volumes could be written on this topic. You have expressed yourself in such a thoughtful way digging deep to express that you could not write about your parents dying.
If they are like me and so many others, death is not something to fear, only the pain associated with death; we can only live at our best by accepting our imminent death at any moment. If they are like me and so many others they do not want to be that last leaf….the last of their group or their family or their friends to die. It becomes a solemn, solitary, aloneness much worse than dying.
My grandmother said it best: ” I have outlived all my friends and most of my children; I am going to die now.” With that, she died within two weeks. She was 97 and ready to go to wherever it was she would be going.
We are selfish people not wishing to turn loose of those we love even when it is time…giving permission for them to go eases their crossing. I always gave permission when I visited with those I loved before leaving for the last time. Some people need permission to go; others need time to make restitution before going….
Well, I guess I should just write my own blog….I won’t though.
Thank you, Kathy, for helping us review this topic.
Linda, you are right that so much could be written about this subject. And that our own death–and that of our loved ones–could be imminent at any moment. How interesting that your grandmother was able to decide to die and to die within two weeks. My own grandma said she didn’t want to live to be 90 because “90 year olds have too many wrinkles”. !!! She died in the fall, just before she turned 90. Also glad to hear that you offer permission for loved ones to die. So many different stories. If you ever do decide to write a blog about this, let me know because I don’t want to accidentally miss it.
Thank you. Holidays are really the worst for me so I may write one then. I’ll let you know.
Please do, Linda…
Thank you for this blog.
You are welcome, dear friend. I know you have walked in this land of grief recently.
Everything that you said is all so true, Kathy. I often wonder about this…about our society and how we don’t give much room or time for people to grieve. Most companies give 5 days off for the death of a spouse or close relative and after those 5 days you’re supposed to be back at work full-force. Not only does the amount of time seem so inadequate, but the small and sometimes superficial ways that others help (or don’t help) during those times of intense grief seem like they would make the process even more difficult to go through. I’m sure we could learn a lot from other cultures in this regard.
Christina, those five days off work seem almost inhumane after one has lost a dear one. It seems like other societies (especially Latin ones) ritualize grief and mourning so much more, allowing time and space to assist. I know I am going to try to be more thoughtful and allowing of space and presence for grief around people going through these times. Thank you.
It is fairly certain that husband’s cancer will take him before I die – and I do not know what to expect. I expect to feel some relief, because he spends most of his time in pain, and when he dies he will no longer suffer the pain. I do not know how much of a hole his being gone will leave in my life, but I suspect it will be harder than I think it will be. Being how I am, I am certain I will require a lot of quiet time, time for me to deal with it.
Carol, I suspect you are right. I have been with women who have lost their husbands (as you have, too, surely) and seen how often it does hit them harder than they expected. It must be so hard to be a caregiver for so long, because one must feel so many conflicted thoughts and feelings. After caretaking Barry through two knee replacements, I’ve learned a bit about the challenges of this role. Can’t imagine what it is like to be with someone who is seriously ill with cancer, day in and day out. Long hug, my friend…
Oh, I once hurried grief. When my beloved Mother died at the age of 69 (one year older than I am now), I was a young Mother of 4 who was finishing a Masters Degree. I felt the need to be strong, to carry on as she would have expected, but months later (when everyone else thought I was “over it,”), I cried in the shower or when I was alone commuting to work. It’s a wonder I didn’t crash the car, I bawled so hard. Finally, I saw a psychologist who told me to honor my grief, to spend time with it, to share my depthless sorrow with my family. Years later I became a Hospice volunteer and through that training learned to help others express grief. Our culture is too quick to move on to the next news bite, not wanting to face mortality in any shape or form. I’ve found that just being present with a person who is experiencing loss, listening, and reflecting quietly with them is what is helpful in times of grief. PS I see my good friend, Spirit in the Stone – I find her to be a good listener.
Thank goodness that psychologist offered you the support to honor your grief, Barb. It seems that a young mother of four would be so busy that she wouldn’t have the time OR space to grieve properly. Thank goodness you didn’t crash the car. Thank goodness you’ve learned about Presence in the faith of loss. And I feel humbled that you honor the spirit in the stone so much.
These are such important thoughts and “wonderings”, Kathy. You are absolutely correct that the process cannot be rushed. I have found it can be channeled. I allow myself to be entirely with my sorrow…on walks, and on drives. I can cry out loud, shout to the treetops, tear at my hair…but when I get to my destination, I pull myself together and go on. One thing I’ve learned is to be a good listener. Whether someone is grieving the end of a marriage, the loss of a breast, or the death of a loved one, I will never ask, “How are you?” without being fully prepared to hear the answer. Thanks, Kathy!
Cindy, I suspect you have learned so much about grief and sorrow during recent times. It is interesting that you have learned that your tears and sorrow can be channeled into appropriate times and spaces to be with the pain. And that you are learning to give back through listening, through presence, through accompanying another. Thank you.
Thanks for this insightful post. People do need to slow down and grieve in their own way, in their own time. I just sent a manuscript to my publisher – the protagonist loses her mother suddenly, but through the understanding of her friend, she is able to take her time getting used to the idea of her mother’s passing. It’s one of the reasons I write for children – to teach them about how to handle life’s adversities as well as celebrate its joys. ❤
Stacy Lyn, I imagine that you are teaching children just that, and honor you for it. And your book shows the gifts of an understanding friend, a listening ear, and carving space to “digest” the arrival of death. I hope your manuscript gets published! It sounds like a book which young people might want to read. Especially those who have been through an intimate death.
Thanks for the words of encouragement, Kathy. I would like to send you a copy of my published novel. Contact me on my page (through email). ❤
Just sent you an email, Stacy Lyn. Thank you!!!
Kathy, you asked the biggest question of all time here…”what have you learned about grief?” At 15 I lost my only grandparent, at 30 my best friend, at 35 my mother, at 40 my father and at 48 my sister, and I have learned that the grief I have felt for each person has been different, and how long it has taken me to get through that grief has been different also.
The hardest person to lose was my dad, yet I don’t know why. Perhaps because his death was so sudden, I’m not sure. I have cried those rivers for him and still do (my eyes are fogging up as I write now). The day he left me, my (other) best friend came to see me and she asked what she could do for me, and without thinking, I said, “just be here”. That would be what I would share with anyone who wishes to console a grieving person, just be there, feel with them, talk with them or sit silent with them.
You said at the beginning of this post that you shut down. I can relate to that, as it is what I do mostly these days when I see people grieving,coming from a feeling of total dispair and inability to make the hurt go away for them. We have to go through the hurt in our own time, in our own way. A positive thought ~ I believe grief also helps us to appreciate the people we have in our lives even more. 🙂
Joanne, I can hardly imagine all the death and grief that you have experienced in your lifetime. So many beloveds passing on! I have only experienced my grandparents passing so far. Thank goodness you had a best friend who could “just be there” for you. That seems to be the answer: Presence.
I should have said that I shut down “sometimes” in the face of grief. Other times I am completely present with it. I usually shut down when reading of too much suffering or killing or war in the larger world. But with loved ones–such as the grandparents–I have been much more present, to varying degrees, allowing all sorts of feelings to arise.
Thinking about the differences between sudden deaths and drawn-out deaths, when we have time to get used to the upcoming passing. Smiling softly as you tear up for your beloved dad…
It does take time, and it also takes the time that it takes. Different people process in different ways and the idea (in our culture) that we are supposed to “get over it” in a week, or a month, or a year is truly heartless. There is something very appealing about the idea of wearing mourning clothes, so that people know at a glance that you are grieving. The slow transition from stark black, to black and white, to greys and purples also reinforces the idea of it being a process. Of course even with mourning clothes the “fashion” and the “timing” became excuses to judge people.
I think the idea of allowing the person grieving to talk about their experiences is very important. I’ve heard people (especially when they’ve lost children) say that it’s almost as though their loved one never existed the way people avoid talking to them about the one’s they’ve lost.
Lots of long and thoughtful comments on this one. I think you’ve hit on a topic that people do think about, but don’t have the venue to talk about it. Thanks Kathy!
Lisa, I’ve heard the same thing about how some people avoid talking about a loved one’s passing. And how hard that is for parents or children who still want to acknowledge that their beloved one existed.
I am fascinated about the ritualized mourning clothes that some cultures do wear. A way of the whole community sharing with the person’s grief over time. And you are right! This topic seemed to touch so many people’s deepest feelings. I am so glad the Universe nudged this topic my way yesterday afternoon. Thank you.
You sure do have a grasp of the action and emotion of grief, of letting go. Tears and remembrance are the path. If we love unconditionally we will be able to share the good and annoying, happiness and the sadness of their lives and the dying!
Beautifully captured. The is wisp of something on the edges of my mind about this blog topic that just will not materialize at them moment.
Jeff, I love what you have said here about “loving unconditionally”. You are right then that the whole of life (and death with its sadness and grief) can be more fully allowed and embraced. I want to keep learning to love more unconditionally and to be more and more Present. Love to you as well, Kathy
Beautiful post. What can I say that others haven’t already stated? I firmly believe that much ongoing suffering can be attributed to unresolved, unacknowledged grief. Grief takes time and sadly, in this culture at least, we rush our time in just about every aspect of our lives. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of giving grief the time and the voice it needs. Healing can’t come unless and untill we’ve given full expression to our grief. This is a truly important post.
Cecelia, don’t you think that sometimes the best writing and stories contain both joy and grief somehow interlaced? We feel the “realness” of that sort of writing, the understanding that life is both the sorrow and delight and we can’t have one permanently without the other giving us a twirl. May we learn to acknowledge our grief and hear its messages. I am going to try not to rush my heart as much in the future. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. (Even if others have expressed similar thoughts, I always love the spirit and flavor of all the different beings who pause to simply be present and share of themselves here and elsewhere.)
Way back in 1994, I won 2nd place in a poetry contest. Your blog reminds me of the poem that won first place. Here it is:
“Between grief and nothing, I’ll take grief.” ~ William Faulkner
Grief is a red-winged blackbird
that startles when it lands
in your empty, outstretched
hands. You must hold it tenderly
when it lights, despite its sharp-clawed
touch – this delicate, feathery thing
that keeps coming back in familiar
patterns like the seasons – then
you must kill it, after you make it sing.
– Lynne Barnes
My dear friend, thank you for sharing this grief-filled singing poem. And thank you for sharing your self, your stories and your faithful Presence so beautifully. I loved having lunch with you! Hugs…
Thank you, Sweetest! You’re a nectar to the spirit. Love you!
Once again, Kathy, you’ve got me thinking! Most of the people who mean something to my life are, thankfully, still here. I completely agree that our society makes us feel as if we should “get over it”, and get back to life. 10 years ago, when…. you know what happened…. the personnel office where I work informed me that “just because there were two of them doesn’t give you double the bereavement time”. I thought that was one of the coldest, most un-human things you could say to a person. I will NEVER forget that. How on Earth did they expect me to “get over” what happened within a week??!! 10 years later, and I am still grieving. I was on medication for a while to try to help my depression, but it took away ALL my feelings – sad, happy, nervous, scared…. you name it. I didn’t like that. I couldn’t feel anything anymore, and that wasn’t right. Everyone deals with grief their own way. One of the worst things a person can do to someone who is grieving is pretend that nothing happened. As a remembrance, I wear a necklace with charms to honor them. The only time I EVER take it off is for an MRI (when I have to).
I make sure that I hug my boys every chance I get, kiss them, tell them I love them, make them feel special. Because they are.
…. oh great, now I’m getting choked up…. see what you do to me?? 😉
I think it’s almost time that I write that post….. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now….
Dearest Holly, thank you for sharing yourself so heartfully here. I cannot imagine the personnel office being so darn rude. How could they say that to a young one grieving like that? Shame on them for being so cold and mechanical! I wonder if society had thrown its arms around you would your grief still be so strong ten years later? What if society had loved, pampered, provided rituals…? Maybe it would still feel like it does ten years later, but you would also feel the edges of being heard, held and honored. Please, please, please tell me if you write that post. I don’t want to miss it. I am pretending right now that I am sitting with you ten years ago in a way that would have made it a little better. (But, then again, maybe I’m wrong to have wanted to make it a little better. Maybe the whole point is that it’s awful and we should just sit with that awfulness of grieving for as long as it takes. Ten years or a lifetime. To carve a crib in our heart where our pain can rock…)
I haven’t lost anyone I was really close to in a long time – thankfully. I hope to remember to better relate and give space to my close ones who are grieving, and to allow myself that same latitude.
Heather, thank you–I shall try to do that, as well. May you not lose anyone close for a long, long time.
My mother died ten years ago, and I still miss her and think about her every day. Mother’s
Day is very hard for me emotionally.
I have learned that grieving is not an exact science-everyone grieves in their own way-and it is not something that can be rushed.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this tragic-but-unavoidable part of life.
Nancy the “Looper”
Nancy, bless you and your mother. It must be very hard, with Mother’s Day being so challenging. Those of you who have lost dear parents or children forge ahead of us and show us the way through this rocky emotional territory. Hugs…
Kathy, thank you for putting into words the feeling that so many shy away from, it hurts. No one wants to admit they are hurting, bereft, and desperately wishing that beloved person back on familiar ground where we can touch, see and hear them. I was always taught not to cry, to rejoice in the passing of a loved one because they were now in a “better place”. Oh, what a scabbed over, feverish, festering wound that causes. It becomes embedded and hard to excise and therefor heal. One is expected to be strong, capable and unemotional in face of death, but I wonder. Of what good is it to anyone to have a wooden heart?
Sandi, your words are so true. When we must choke back tears or rejoice in a loved one’s passing there are invisible painful wounds left inside. May we never become only wooden hearts, incapable of grief–or joy. Thank you for adding your wisdom here.
Beautiful and thought provoking post, Kathy. Once again you’ve taken my mind to a place it needed to go. Thanks….
Annie, I am glad this took your mind where it needed to go. It’s not always a pretty place, but a place we must sometimes visit nonetheless. You are welcome. Thank you for adding your comment.
Grief has been my companion a couple of times in this lifetime. From those experiences, I learned what NOT to do for others when they grieve. As a result of my times of grief, I have now made it my purpose to be there for others who grieve. I have patted hands, hugged, listened and cried with countless mourners. Validation and comfort is what they need, not advice on how to make it go away. It will not go away until they fill that lake with tears, and even then, a melancholy from contented memories will linger. Beautiful blog post, Kathy, thanks.
Lori, the words you wrote “a melancholy from contented memories will linger” resound beautifully. To be able to continue through life after a loved one’s passing with that melancholy is probably key. Honoring your hands and heart as you have sat with those countless mourners. Hoping to learn from you and the others who have posted such significant sharings of their own grief and lessons here.
As it happens, not planning this at all, today I picked up and began reading MY GRANDFATHER’S BLESSINGS: STORIES OF STRENGTH, REFUGE, AND BELONGING, by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. Many stories of illness, death, loss, and grief, but all stories told in the larger context of blessings–this is a beautiful book! I’ve been so engrossed that I’m already almost halfway through it. Anyone else read it?
Pamela, I hope some readers come by and scroll down through the comments and discover your offering here. I have looked through the book in bookstores and often thought of buying it. Your glowing review suggests it will be a good one to deeply peruse.
Having been blindsided by the sudden death of my Mom and then my Dad 5 mos later, and in between, during those five months the expected deaths of a friend, my father-in-law and an aunt…I have experienced grief in many different ways. I know it’s different for each person, and even within one person, with each loss.
Now days I talk with people who have lost loved ones in truck crashes. I remember what was important to me in those days after Dad died. It was to hear stories about him from his friends, and it was to have people listen to me tell my stories. To have people ask about him, rather than as about me. It was to have people just sit with me and let me cry. It was to let myself cry whenever, even today 8 years later.
Every person I have talked with who has lost someone tells me they think they should be ‘over it’ sooner than they are. And I gently tell each of them that wherever they are in the continuum of grief, they are where they should be. There’s no rush. There are no rules. There should be no guilt or pressure. I reassure them that they are normal. I give them space to be where they are. I give them permission to take time for themselves, to take care of themselves, to talk and to listen and not feel that they are crazy. Because grief is one of the most difficult thing they will ever face.
Everyone is different, yet we are all the same. It takes longer than you think it should to get to a place where grief doesn’t weigh you down every second of every day. And that’s OK. Whatever path you take to get to your safe place is OK.
In the end life will never be OK for these people (or for me) but it will be manageable. And it will be happy again, in a different way than it was before. Grief changes us, but that is not always a bad thing. Grief can teach us more about our selves than many other life changing events. Grief can make us stronger, more empathetic, more loving, more open to change.
Still. It is so hard.
I can’t even imagine the grief you have experienced, Dawn. So much, and in such a short time. I have always admired you (since I’ve heard the story about your dad’s death) how you are taking the time and energy to help others. Your words echo the magazine writer’s article, in which she felt that stories of the person’s life were most meaningful and healing. Your words about grief helping to make the survivor stronger and with a more wide-open heart sounds so valuable. Even though it often doesn’t stop being hard.
I think it’s important to let people who are grieving know that you’re there for them, even if not in person for all time then as a listener for that moment. And to not put yourself (oneself) first. But also to play things by ear. A lot of people shun those who are mourning which a hurtful thing to do.
I had a friend years ago who, when my mother died, told me in not too different words to get over it. Then his own mother passed and he knew what I’d been feeling. It’s sad that it has to happen like that but people who’ve never lost a loved one, really don’t know how it feels. One moment they’re there, the next it’s like something has sucked them out of your life and made them vanish. You look for them everywhere, often you see them everywhere too – mistaking other people for the missing person. The friend who was so insensitive to me is now dead, himself. I wasn’t aware of his passing til very many years later and I don’t know anyone at all from his family. I wasn’t close to him, but it was a strange feeling to discover he’d gone and I hadn’t even known about it.
Often, my own worry is talking too much about my own experiences of loss to people who may have lost someone but who don’t talk about it themselves and thereby triggering emotions at the wrong time. As you say, rituals are important – they came about to help people grieve. However, not everyone grieves in the same way and some people need – have to for the sake of their survival – to put off their grieving til they find the right time.
There is also something that happens sometimes that many people aren’t aware of. A kind of second outflow much later in time. I had that when I withdrew from a 19 year long addiction to Valium – the grief came back again. And everytime something else happens in my life that is ‘big’ like a major change in circumstances, it returns again. But that’s not surprising as death is part of the life continuum that we all experience as we grow. And I don’t even mean that in any spiritual way, just that it’s nature and natural for us all.
I wouldn’t wish the loss of a loved one on anyone, but yes, the unknown of the experience does make some people too casual or superficial about it when faced with a person who’s grieving.
Val, thank you for sharing your own story about your friend who was so insensitive and yet later understood. You are also making me think about your comment “triggering emotions at the wrong time.” Gosh, I probably do that inadvertently. You pointed to the path so accurately when you said you must “play things by ear”. (That is one of my mother’s favorite sayings.)
That outflow later in time–yes. I have been thinking about that lately. Have you ever heard of the Presence Process by Michael Brown? Maybe I mentioned it to you a year or more ago. It’s a ten-week process where you allow all emotions to simply arise and meet them. He suggests that in the very process of being born and growing up we learn very quickly not to feel emotions to their fullest. Thus we keep pulling situations to us which try to re-kindle the suppressed feelings.
As I have been feeling suppressed feelings even more in the last few years, I am discovering that grief/sadness comes and goes throughout our living experience. And not to push it away so much. Although some days/moments are harder than others.
Also had a very dear friend lose her husband several years ago. I remember being very attentive and loving and present for her for months and months. But also remember wanting her to “get over it” after a year had passed. I learned something from watching her grieve–and will hopefully realize in the future that some people might need a lifetime to grieve. I do not know. (And she is happily in a relationship years later and seems to have integrated her husband’s death.)
This is another of your really thought-provoking, touching, posts Kathy – and yet, Holly’s comment is maybe even more so (sorry for listening in to your conversation).
Me, I’m quite poor at reacting to others’ grieving. I’ve not lost many close to me, so I haven’t the practice, which is good and bad. This past spring, I had four funeral home visits in a matter of ten or so days – even by the fourth, I was clumsily offering attempts to converse with the families.
Sid, I think when we post on blog comments we’re allowing others to pause by our words and listen to our conversations. I think that many of us are generally not good at handling the grief of others until we’ve had the experience ourselves. And that we should be patient with our non-understanding selves (and hope that the grievers are patient with us, too.) Maybe our clumsy presence can be enough…
Your presence, clumsy or otherwise is welcome at moments like that.
I lost my brother 22 years ago. He was 27. I felt like the world have should stopped turning, but it just kept going. In the midst of it all I cried hard and felt like I was riding on a wave of God’s presence and love. My understanding is the grief process took about three years; as I could handle the emotion, little at a time. Poetry, dreams and deep feelings of love and trust released me from the pain of loss.
Jeannie, I remember reading about your brother. How heartening to know that you could simultaneously cry AND feel like your were enveloped with God’s love. It feels somehow so healing, almost, that it took three years to integrate the pain. As a nation we are beginning to embrace “slow food”…perhaps someday we shall being to embrace “slow grieving”. Thank you, my friend.
Seriously, what’s the hurry. The galaxy is spinning, our planet, our world and no one even knows why…it’s only a notion to; “Keep up” & “Get ahead.” Ahead of what? Pain is part of our experience here. Also Trusting in the midst of it. I do think it is but a mask of God. It doesn’t make since, but then what does?
I always admire your heart-filled wisdom, Jeannie…
There is no right way to grieve is there/ – we all grieve in our own ways and the length of time does not matter — this is just a very thoughtful post – you are braver than I to attempt this topic – it is much too close to the heart for me
LouAnn, it’s been harder than I though to respond to comments on this blog. Thank you for saying I’m brave. I think you are, too, although some subjects are harder than others…
Beautiful thoughtful post. Beautiful language eg this sentence
writes perfumed sentences that leave you swooning in honeyed delight.
We think we can prepare ourselves for death but we can’t. Death is so final, it hits us like a shock every time. I’ve buried both my parents.
My Mom died just last year and even though I feel her presence, I miss her so much. What I find the hardest to bear is the silence – I used to phone her every day.
I’m so sorry about your Mom…I sometimes think the loss of a Mom is the worst. When I was grieving the hardest for my Mom I thought…”I should call Mom and ask her how long it took her to get back on her feet after Grandma died.” ….and they realized how crazy that thought was. Hugs to you. (sorry Kathy, I usurped your spot! ) – Dawn K.
Dawn, you can usurp my spot any time! It’s not really mine, you know. 🙂 I’ll just butt in some time after.
Thank you for the hugs Dawn.
Rosie, if you’re like me there is a part that keeps trying to prepare for the death of loved ones. And I know it’s impossible. I can’t imagine life without my mom and dad. And yet it’s going to happen. I am crying just thinking of you missing your mom. And wanting to pick up the phone… Blessings, my friend.
I don’t think you can prepare yourself… I knew that my mother at age 95 didn’t have many years left, and I’d cry just thinking of it, and think I must prepare myself, but how can you prepare yourself to say “cheers so long it’s been good to know you —“?
When the call came at 4 am to tell us she’d gone, I was in shock, it was so sudden, it was over before it had begun. I cried, but then I realized it meant she wasn’t in pain anymore, and I was glad for her..
My husband died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 13th. He was 51. I completely understand about the silence. He was a talker – we talked on the phone, we texted, we talked at home, in the car – constantly talking. As we had for 30 years. The silence is so hard. The perfect fitting together in a hug or a spooning, the walking hand-in-hand; these things are all so difficult to face every. single. day. The missing him is sooooo painful! The time to grieve, well, I am doing that, in my own way and my own time. Helping our grandson, whom we have raised, is a heartbreak all it’s own.
The most amazing thing for me was my best college friend. She came, she took over decision making, she and 2 other women friends from college came together, watched my grandson while my dearest friend accompanied me to the mortuary, got my adult children on a plane/bus to me, paid motel and food costs (he died several hundred miles from home, he’d had the car), made sure my dog got fed and walked, and just let me do whatever it was I needed to do, mostly be on the phone and chain smoke.
And yes, now, 10 weeks later, most people who were there and present in the immediacy have stopped calling. I know their lives have gone back to the daily rigamarole, but I am still in the daily experience of not knowing what song on Pandora will open up the floodgates, not knowing if the little guy will have another meltdown at school, terrified of going back to work due to his meltdowns and the frequent calls I receive, terrified of NOT going back to work as that would result in homelessness and other unpleasant consequential realities. Right now, I am spending the last couple weeks I have of financial cushion talking with my mom (who I had started preparing myself to lose, given her age and health), knitting, reading, writing and getting tattoos. The tattoos are like therapy for me. I’m not naturally a pain-feeler. I’m an awesome coper! Face the crisis, figure it out, keep moving. Trust me, I felt the pain. And it was good. And I have beautiful art that Jim wanted me to have when he was here. Having to be still for 6 at a stretch several weekends in a row was probably a really good thing for me. Be still. Be in the moment. Feel. Think. Be. Things I have to force myself to do.
I feel that I am processing rather quickly, but not from pressure to do so. Possibly, rather, from NO pressure to do so. I do what I do, I am who I am, and now the most annoying question I am asked is, “Why aren’t you crying?” I have. I do. Just maybe not the way I am ‘expected’ to. The expectations put on grieving people are mind-boggling. For some, it takes years. For some, it doesn’t. I know I will always feel the pain of my husband’s death as I still feel the pain of my brother’s death 14 years ago. But I am also finding unexpected abilities in myself to manage things without a partner. Turns out I can fix a running toilet all by myself. Who knew?
The rest of my life is going to come. It’s going to happen. I have to make choices and decisions about what that is going to look like. I am going to make it bright, and lively, the only thing I know how to do!
Jeez. Sorry. That was seriously long.
Zoe, gosh, I don’t mind that it was long at all. I am sitting here beside the computer trying to imagine what you have been through in the last several months. Can hardly fathom what you have experienced. Thank you for sharing your feelings, your thoughts, your uniqueness. I guess that’s what I learned–again–after reading your comment. How unique we all are. How are grieving is individual (even when we’re helped by friends and family.) I pray that you will know what to do next and that you’ll have the financial security that you need. (And am amazed that it’s possible to learn to fix a running toilet! Wow! You rock!) I like your last paragraph. You WILL make your life bright and lively because that’s what shines out between your words now. Many blessings. Many, many blessings for your wonderful spirit.
My dear Zoe
You certainly understand how loud that silence can be… I cannot imagine the pain you had to face when your husband passed away so suddenly and so young – my mother was 95 when she died.
You can’t sweep grief under the carpet. People forget that we need time to heal, slowly, and one day at a time. I agree and understand how 10 weeks isn’t enough time.
I also send my love and many blessings for your wonderful spirit which shines through especially in your last paragraph:
“The rest of my life is going to come—- I am going to make it bright, and lively—“
I don’t know whether you’re open to it, but my mother has visited me several times in my dreams since she passed away.
Here’s the link to one of the posts
“then” not they…silly blogger
Not sure where the “them” not they should be edited. My mistake? Or yours?
I talked to my brother and my Grandma in poems and prayers at first. Very comforting.
I remember talking to my Grandpa and Grandma for a long time, Jeannie. It helped… and I do believe they answered…
Lovely post. I especially like your comments on how to respond to a grieving person. Ask a questions about their lost loved one and be there to listen. Death and dying are so natural, yet we turn away from it as though it’s punishment for living. Those we’ve lost live on in the stories we tell, and we should always listen to the stories others tell.
Sara, thank you. I am going to think about the way to respond to a grieving person, too. May we not turn away…I know I don’t want to turn away. Stories can be so healing.
Thank you for this wonderful post 🙂
I lost my mom late last year and my favorite pet early this year. Two death in such sort time was really painful. I love my pet as if she is my own child…it was like losing a mother and a child at the same time 😦
I have get over the grief but somehow they carried something away from me.
I kept writing about Kame, my pet, in her blog as a way to remember her and so happy that her blogger friends still enjoy all the post about them. I didn’t write much about my mom in my blog because she was too personal to share.
It’s been great reading your thoughtful post.
Novroz, I am glad this was valuable for you. I do know how painful it is to lose a precious pet. When we were young newlyweds we lost our black lab, Bucky, and I mourned like he was a child, crying, tearing my hair, so deep in grief. I understand why you haven’t written about your mother–and why you shared about Kame. Deep blessings in your losses…
So, your topic somehow filtered into my mind; and I wrote an essay today about grief and acceptance, and about the process of coming to terms with whatever is. How we dealing with death is probably one of the most important topics of our lifetime and death comes in many different degrees and types.
It is “hard to bear the grief of living on an angry hurting planet – sometimes”. I put a bit of space before “sometimes” because it doesn’t ALWAYS feel like it is angry or hurting to me. Sometimes a perspective in the news or someone’s blog draws my own attention to such “aspects”. They are not all that is there.
Wow, I read that SAME article in Whole Living magazine. Why does it not surprise me that you read that magazine too ? I too want to “remember …” (those excellent questions suggested, that perspective) “… when accompanying a grieving friend. To provide space for my friend to remember his loved one.”
I do feel it sad that people can’t sit alongside experiences of grief, just quietly letting it be whatever it is. We live in a “hurry on past” society, I suppose. Myself, I’m seeking to embrace “slow life”; and that too is a process, a letting go of urgency in any thing.
I will also try to remember the beautiful way you express your reason for allowing grief – “To honor the preciousness of the way the Universe materialized in a magnificent human being for a firefly spark of a lifetime.” You are such a preciousness. I would do well not to forget the lessons in “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” (by Leo Buscalia), a book which we do own.
Darn !! Leo’s last name should be Buscaglia. Wish wordpress gave us a few edit minutes.
Deb, if you give me the address where you wrote your essay, I would love to read it. (I went looking for your daily post but couldn’t quite ascertain where it was.) You are right about that big **sometimes** because of course lots of time we are happy and singing and joyful and completely oblivious to grief. It’s not time for grief, then. Happy to hear you read the same magazine, Deb, and am not surprised either! My daughter gave me a subscription last Christmas and then I pass it on to her. We both are thoroughly enjoying the magazine.
Thinking about the many times I am way too fast, but always desiring to be a tad slower, more conscious. Love to you and Freddie that Precious Leaf…
Kathy, I am writing these in the Living Metaphysics community. It’s small and somewhat private. I will email the essay that relates to Grief. Sound good ?
Thanks, Deb, I got it. Will read probably tomorrow. Thank you…
When my mother died, I learned to cry when I needed to cry. Wail, if need be. I learned to sit with the grief, to honor it, to honor her. I learned that grief can be a very deep well and it takes a lot of time to crawl out of it. I learned that it’s okay to talk about her, to laugh about her… maybe we’re even laughing with her. I learned that writing helped. Friends helped. A sense of community helped. Just knowing someone was really listening made all the difference in the world. I learned that strangers can sometimes offer the best comfort. I learned many things, some of which I may have already forgotten.
Beautiful post, Kathy. Thank you.
Robin, it’s good to read what helped you. I am deeply listening. Deeply listening… Love, Kathy
Grief is a powerful teacher for the living. There was a time when the unexpected loss of my father occurred only months after my marriage ended. The loss of both within months of each other changed me None of us are taught how to grieve until faced with the inevitable. Thank you for surfacing a pivotal and common human experience that is very much a part of the human condition. The layers of grief show up close to the surface at first – then after time grief joins you when you least expect it. It becomes a constant companion that you learn to live with. The emotional component is rich with useful information that helps you recognize what you truly value. I’ve learned to embrace the waves of change and honor the passage that is very much a part of the fabric of my life. Thank you for the beautiful post Kathy.
Sheila, I can hardly imagine so much grief in such a short time. Yet it became a powerful teacher for you, so your spirit opened to allow the teachings. I appreciate what you have written and will ponder your image of embracing the waves of change and honoring the passage. What beautiful poetic writing! Thank you for sharing.
Pingback: Walking and Cleaning House « Elisa's Spot
The person who suggested getting the grieving person to talk about the departed gave excellent advice. Focusing on the life lived is very cathartic. It’s what got me through the loss of my parents. With my mother, we had a week to prepare for the inevitable – family gathered around and remembering. Although she did not want a traditional funeral, we decided to have an open-house, invited close friends, and made it more about her life than her death. To prepare for the event, which was three months after her passing, I worked diligently on a scrapbook of her life. I wanted it to be a memorial for my father, left behind, and I actually learned things about her that I didn’t know before starting the project. I went through tons of photos and found a box of mementos that she’d saved from her childhood. School photos, graduation program, photos of her and her volleyball team (I didn’t know she played volleyball), a photo of her acting out a play and the hand-written script about which I knew nothing until I asked my Dad, even the scraps from all her sewing projects were included in the book.
With my Dad, because he had been such an active volunteer at his church, we did a more traditional memorial at the church with a reception to follow. Again, we focussed on his life. Since we had recently celebrated his 80th birthday, we had a lot of photos, which I printed out and put in a scrapbook to share with his family and friends.
Although the pain of their loss never really goes away (tears well up whenever I think about them missing important events in my life and my kids’ lives), it feels much better to talk about what they were like and what they enjoyed doing. 🙂
Withershins, that scrapbook sounds like such a beautiful idea. A way for your dad to focus on honoring your mother’s life. And then you did the same for your dad to share with family and friends. I like that idea a lot. Thank you for sharing about your grief experiences. And for keeping them alive in your heart…
Kathy, what a wonderful post and beautiful comments in response to your touching thoughts ! The threads of my life lead me to grief and death more than I had wished. But then death comes at its own time. I happened to witness several family members’ and friends’ passing. Quietly. At other times it was sudden, shocking, unbelievable. From one second to the other our world changed, they were gone and I remained, lost. Grieving takes a long time, several phases. I find that it helps when I can write down my thoughts about it, write to the person who passed, tell her or him all I did not have time to say before, just let my heart “speak”. Then I burn these letters. I have shared this with friends who lost a loved one, they appreciated it too. Listening to grieving people also helps them. Often people do not need answers, they need to talk and be surrounded with empathy, love, time for listening. Death is part of our life. I read a quote about not letting grief linger for too long and instead go on living with all the memories of those who passed and be grateful that our paths met.
Isa, your idea about writing thoughts into letters sounds really healing. All of the comments here keep suggesting that similar thought that people don’t really need answers; they need Presence and accompaniment through the turbulent waters of grief. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Blessings…