Original drawing I created for and borrowed with permission from www.thegrieftoolbox.com
When my nine year old died in 1987 I was thrust into a dark womb of despair and I felt my system shutting down. How can I possibly survive this? I did not want to, nor did I know how. The foundations of my existence were shaken, “this cannot be happening to me” I said over and over again as though it would somehow awaken me from the nightmare. For the first time in my life I could use word “surreal” with an understanding of its meaning, as it seemed the only way to describe my waking hours as I experienced them.
One pivotal day in those early years of gray I found myself holding myself in a deep soul embrace; I was really unsure who was in control, yet deep inside from some internal gyroscope I felt a faint harmony that I had never felt before; a quiet sacred balance, a moment of new direction, of moment of new meaning. Just a flicker of hope, a spark in the abyss, but it was real. I was stirred from my slumber of dried tears and as surely as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon I said “I need to breathe…I need to fly” and I broke through the chrysalis, a chrysalis that always seemed so imposing but yet I soon discovered to be so very thin. I emerged a newborn baby into a world of the unknown, and although exhilarated that I could breathe I did not know how to fly…and I was frightened. I found that I missed the womb of deep grief, its protection, its security and its lostness. I had to rest and dry my wings before I could fly, but fly again I did.
We start over again in real years, in real time following a major loss. What is vitally important in our journey is what we do with those years. I proclaimed to myself “If I am going to start all over again I am going to take risks. I am not speaking of physical risks, I am not going sky diving or mountain climbing although that may be healing for many, for me it was a needed shift in consciousness. I am going to take emotional risks. At risk of sounding prosaic I wanted my light to shine.
Through grieving my son I have discovered myself and have begun to like what I have found beneath the layers of emotional armor. I am a much better person, more compassionate, a more affectionate person, a more feeling person than I have ever been in my life; I laugh harder; I cry harder. I take emotional risks to reach out to those in pain. I find it helps my own pain and builds my own hope in the process. It can also provide us a platform for change, our future and the world’s. We can use the power in our grief to become better or bitter; or we become apathetic and another life is gone. We have choices.
Take the risk to be you, reach out to yourself, and reduce or remove filters (with discretion), express yourself, admit your pain, admit your flaws, admit your misgivings, admit your dreams, admit your joy, admit your potential…admit your gifts. Use your masks whenever you need to get through a bad day, and to survive -but not every day. Use your gifts to rebuild your life. Grief is hard work and there is no shame in hard work. It takes guts to be an intentional survivor. As Winnie the Pooh said “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”.
We as a society and a species we tend to process personal loss from the experiences of those around us processing theirs; it is a skill that is not taught in basic education but only in the school of hard knocks. Death is a natural flow in life and it cannot be denied; we will experience grief every day that we live, it happens.
The death of a loved one in your life is like coming upon an imposing river on your journey. It has no bridge and is deep, cold, dangerous and swift. We have four choices when we stand on its shore, we can try to cross it somehow, we can try to fight the current and go upstream, we stay on the shoreline or we go with the flow downstream… all valid options. When someone we love dies we find ourselves standing on the shoreline unsure what to do and where we are truly confronted with our own fears and ignorance of the great mystery.
When my son was diagnosed with cancer we came to an imposing river and we chose to go upstream to try and save his life; when he died we went back to the shore and again looked at our options. The shore was not the same shoreline we left; we had no strength to go upstream, no desire to cross to a new shore, so we went with the flow and were open to see where it would take us. That is what I call faith.
When coming to grips with death and dying, our own death or someone we love we come to a crossroads of faith. We may cling to our religious beliefs with more tenacity than ever before and strive to understand its teachings with a different eye or we may fall away from our faith feeling detached and abandoned. We may even turn our anger toward God for not preventing the tragedy.
We have those that claim God can heal everything with enough faith, including miracle cures and a even resurrection from clinical death. When that does not happen, the most ardent of the faithful may be tested and be at odds with a creator that would not answer their prayers. Often times it is this passionate believer that seems even more frightened of death and fight death as the enemy when paradoxically they strive to live a life with a goal to get to heaven.
On the other hand some say there is no God, and that there are no miracles. Interestingly enough these people that do not believe in a God or an afterlife often feel just as frightened and alone in regards to death and dying as are some of the deeply devout find themselves .
The angst of death seems most apparent in these extremes of spiritual philosophies. The more we know the more, the more we know we what we don’t know. The grief experience that we find ourselves in is a new slate, one we did not choose but one in which we have a choice in how we process it into our reality. We can survive loss but I believe that to truly thrive again, that a belief in a divine intelligence and an afterlife is critical.
Everything in life is in a cycle of polarization, a sine wave to maintain equilibrium with no exceptions; darkness/light; heat/cold; pressure/vacuum; concave/convex on and on ad infinitum. This includes human birth and death. Life is not linear it is a true circle. Then light at the end of a tunnel is the same on either end. Going upstream or downstream whether you reach the spring or the delta both are source. There are no real endings only new beginnings. Basic physics concludes that energy does not die nor is it consumed, it continual reinvents itself. There is no real death only transformation, which in turn allows for hope of some kind of continued existence beyond our corporal one.
Through the experience of suffering a significant loss in our life, our faith and endurance is tested to its limits. We become are stronger in the broken places or we become crippled for life. Our grief is an opportunity to use all that we have, and all that we can muster to let our heart light shine; we take the risk to be better than we have ever been. What can hurt us more? We can become bitter or better; we have choices. Grief is the price we pay for love, and it is directly proportional to our investment in that love. Allow that love to continue to give us proceeds as we rebuild our lives proactively by living the loss and not postponing its grief.
Sorrow yields hope when we discover our part of the symphony -is just that; the music goes on and we have the choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance.
Peace , love and healing