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?