When we lose someone we love dearly we embark on a journey, the hero’s journey if you will, to find meaning in our suffering and help heal the ache that throbs so deeply in our soul. We are on a mission, a spiritual quest to heal our heart, traveling into uncharted territories and bitter realities. The bereavement process is not unlike the brave Hobbit’s journey to Mordor in the Tolkien’s story “The Lord of the Rings”.
Like Frodo the main character we embark on an odyssey of seemingly impossible odds; a journey we did not choose but the where the journey chose us. Feeling small and infinitesimal against the looming gargantuan mountain of grief, we rest for a while in its long deep shadow and watch the rumbling clouds of storms gathering threateningly in the distant.
We rest; we gather strength for our long journey and find the courage to take that first step. We cannot go back, we have to cross the mountain, and leave what we have known for our whole life, leave behind our comforts and begin our journey. As Frodo wore the ring of power around his neck, so do we wear the ring of grief around our neck, “my loved one is dead, this is all I have it is my grief. We clutch on to that grief, it’s ours, it is our precious. If we hold it very tightly we too can become invisible, but like Frodo and worse yet Gollum if we stay there too long, we can get lost in the dark.
We continue on our journey using the ring of our grief to aid us in our survival. We struggle forward, always feeling the draw of the ring, our grief, our burden, our protector, our precious. There in lays the paradox for in Tolkien’s Tale, Frodo must throw the ring back into the fires of Mordor to save the world, yet lose his precious, his ring that can make him invisible and safe. The goal in our grief journey is to throw our ring of grief into the fires of acceptance to help heal our pain. The ring is a symbol or our cocoon of grief where we can hide in plain sight; it has been our safety net for a long time and not easy to release.
We soon learn it is not the metaphorical fires of Mordor in Tolkien’s trilogy that heals the hurt, anymore than The Wizard of Oz’s mechanical ticking heart allowed the Tin Man to feel compassion nor the medal that was given to the Cowardly Lion give him courage. It’s the journey itself that is the healing process. Slowly we feel our own heart beat again, we gain courage to move forward; reluctant warriors we face the dragon and fight for our lives.
We find out who our real friends are and who we really need in our lives. Like Samwise the hobbit that was Frodo’s best friend, we have friends who stay by our side, protect us when we are not looking, give us bread when they are hungry, put up with our intolerant moods; always there when we need them.
We meet angels, and monsters, good people and trolls, madmen and magicians; we see and experience more death, more pain on our journey. Everyone’s journey is different and it takes as long as it takes; a journey we cannot escape. Returning the ring is the acceptance part of grief, the ring to rule all the components of grief. We no longer need to become invisible or deny our own destiny. The components of grief come and go and they come when they are needed; the teacher comes, when the student is ready.
As Frodo did in the story we can become invisible when we feel the need too and escape from the world but we cannot stay there too long as it becomes harder to return each time. We need to hold on to our grief but not let it become our ‘precious’ and take over our life forever and define us. We must carry it with us on our journey, because it is the journey. We shall need many different friends to help and aid us as we travel to our own Mordor. We shall lose old friends, gain new friends, find friends in unlikely places, find warm kinship with strangers, and cold hugs from good friends.
As with Frodo it can be a struggle to let go of our grief, it has been our ‘precious’ for a long time and paradoxically can be hard to give up. Like Frodo we must return the ring, and find acceptance or become a miserable creature like Gollum enslaved to his catharsis, and a causality of his own avarice. We shall rest when weary, we will doubt our mission to survive, we will collapse from exhaustion, we will lose our way, and we will want to give up. But like Frodo we carry on wounded, hurting, forever changed and move slowly across those mountains.
Eventually like Frodo we release the grief, the grip of our precious and live by what we have learned on the journey itself. We don’t release the love for our child or the essence of our loved one; we release old expectations and lost dreams. We release guilt and anger; we accept that we have a new relationship with our loved one and accept our ‘new normal.’ Like Frodo, where he was wounded, it too will ache the rest our life, we shall always be bereaved… but not always be in grief.
We must live with our loss, we must experience it fully, we must express our sorrow, show our lamentations, wallow in our pain, and swim in our grief; it is supposed to hurt and we do not need someone to fix it. Grief is a natural process we have to allow to happen; not to be rushed, circumvented, delayed or medicated forever, it needs to be experienced and absorbed before true rebuilding can begin.
Recognize your journey and do not opt for the short cuts. Letting go is not letting go of love, it is letting go of what will never be. It’s not getting over it, is going through it, it is not moving on, it’s moving with, it’s not closure, its acceptance, it is not concentrating on what you no longer have, its embracing what you still have. It’s seeking joy and finding peace once again; living the loss and becoming an intentional survivor.