“His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
There is no set timetable for grief. For some, the deepest experience of it is relatively short; for others, much longer. And while the sense of loss may never go away, it does subside over time. As we notice that happening, we must begin to emerge from the deep fall into grief and start the climb back into our life, changed though it may be.
For me, when my daughter died (LINK to last post), I went very deeply into grief and stayed there for several weeks – numb, in pain, lost – going through the motions of preparing for the cremation, the memorials, having conversations with loved ones and remembering almost none of it afterward. Because of my faith built through spiritual study and spiritual practices, I knew that grief has a bottom, I was able to let myself fall fully and deeply for a month or so and my recovery to a functional life was, I believe, quicker as a result.
“Failures to grieve loss and disappointment, openly, honestly, will rise again, as unbidden ghosts from their untimely burial, through depression, or as projection onto objects of compelling, delusive desire, or through captivation by the mindless distractions of our time.”
~ James Hollis
This is something which I know from my own experience, but which I would never say to someone fresh in their grieving process. I would encourage them to grieve fully and offer my support in any way they may desire it. However, it is of no help to tell people about the lessons they are learning or that a loved one is in a better place, or that the one grieving is better off without what is lost (as in the case of a lost job, for example). In the early stages of grief, we are not capable of learning lessons or of rationalizing loss. We are better served by being with the pain of loss in an environment which allows us to be with that pain safely. There is no escaping the need to grieve, but we can refuse the experience at the depth needed for us to move toward healing. Refusing the experience deprives us of the healing that only deep grieving can offer. We need to grieve, painfully and fully, if we are to emerge and live a fulfilling life ourselves.
“For me there are two wise lessons in this story: Grief and loss are ubiquitous even for a young child. And the way toward healing is to look for how love comes back in another form.”
~ May Benatar
Eventually, we move into a phase of grieving in which we are ready to explore deeper meanings, new ways forward, and other issues. But this may happen slowly and we may well have times when we return to deeper grief. Again, there is no universal trajectory or timetable to measure one’s progress. Grief will ebb and flow. Patience is needed here, both by the one grieving and by those in his or her support system.
When we are ready to explore the lessons to be learned, we might also realize that the lessons we might learn are NOT the reason the loss occurred. They are a byproduct, not part of a causative chain. Thinking that someone died so that you could learn more self-acceptance is a road to unnecessary guilt. That said, there will be valuable lessons to learn about yourself, about life, about many things as you emerge from deep grief. Some of them will be unique to you and to your situation, others will be more universal. I will close with this poem which speaks to a universal lesson that we would all be well-served by learning:
The Dakini Speaks:
My friends, let’s grow up.
Let’s stop pretending we don’t know the deal here.
Or if we truly haven’t noticed, let’s wake up and notice.
Look: Everything that can be lost, will be lost.
It’s simple — how could we have missed it for so long?
Let’s grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings,
But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.
Let’s not act so betrayed,
As though life had broken her secret promise to us.
Impermanence is life’s only promise to us,
And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.
To a child she seems cruel, but she is only wild,
And her compassion exquisitely precise:
Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,
She strips away the unreal to show us the real.
This is the true ride — let’s give ourselves to it!
Let’s stop making deals for a safe passage:
There isn’t one anyway, and the cost is too high.
We are not children anymore.
The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost.
Let’s dance the wild dance of no hope!
~ Jennifer Welwood, The Dakini Speaks
As always, your comments are welcomed. I am deeply touched by the love and support in the comments to my last post, here at the blog site, on social media, and via direct connections with many who read the post. It was my most read blog post to date. May we all find the healing we need to live with the inevitable losses in life, and may we support one another in doing so. Be gentle with yourself and with one another. Thank you.
Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard