Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Gift of Grief

I write to gain perspective or a new way of looking at things. A way to puzzle through some of the complex things that make us even more complex as Human Beings. Sometimes I have to remind you, and myself, that I'm no different than you. I don't know all the answers; I don't even know all the questions. Especially with very sensitive issues or topics. I don't shy away from them, but occasionally it causes me to worry that taking them on could alienate me.

I do not presume to know how you feel; I never discount how you view the world. I respect what you know as real for you. And while I respect that it is truly how you see the world from your vantage point, there are times when I will most respectfully disagree or challenge you to consider a different way of seeing.

I am not a licensed therapist. I am not a mental health worker. I was in health care and absorbed a great deal over 20 years, but not as a clinician. I am a communicator and so, in order to take complex information and boil it down for the average person to understand it, I had to first learn it so I could modify it for public consumption. I'm very, very good at it. But, I remind you I am not a licensed practitioner.

I am married to a caring and deeply spiritual man who is a funeral director and views his work, not as a vocation, but an avocation. He is compassionate and intimately familiar with grief and grieving; we both share that ability to be unflinchingly present to people when they are raw with emotion. I have been a social worker as part of my career. And, I have training as a healer in terms of Reiki; I am a Reiki Master of the Usui tradition. That's the extent of my qualifications, except for the fact that I am a very seasoned Human Being. And for the remainder of this post, that's the qualifying voice with which I will be speaking.

Lately, the theme of loss and grief has filtered through several corners of my blog world. I see it and hear it very clearly in the words others are leaving for our reading. The momentum seems to be building and I have left comments with the writers, some of which have caused a maelstrom of emotional response. That reaction suggests that I should more deeply discuss my thinking. So, I share my ideas with you here without the massive emotional charge that is generally invested in this topic. I invite you to read it the same.

If you type, "pictures of grieving," into a search engine, you get a wide array of images that represent this topic. Some are fascinating; some truly horrifying. Most are despondent and dark, attempting to capture the harshness of grief. The utter loneliness and desolation of the griever. Very few, however, are able to show the profound spiritual depth we gain from the gift of grief.

Some few, some miraculous few, make us drop to our knees as we witness the courage, bravery and testament to love that grief forges in us.

Such as this one...a global representation of the profound grief a mother experiences in the death of a beloved child. No matter how old that child may be, no matter how long the parent had the gift of that child. It does not matter...

What is most compelling about this image is the Madonna's expression. The sense of grace, courage and acceptance this woman imparts while grieving. Acceptance, not of the loss or the details around it, but acceptance that grief is the exacted price for having been given the gift of loving another. It's part of the circle of life. Courage in facing it, moving through it, releasing it, and living after it, is the Magick of the circle. Just as the ability to love is a gift, the ability to grieve is also a gift, but we don't view it as such until we live it and through grace, come out stronger on the other side.

Many get stuck in grief and refuse to move on. Refuse to move forward out of a misguided sense of loyalty. Believing that reliving the grief represents how much we loved someone. Refusing to move because of mistaken belief that if we let go of our sadness, we let go of the person. It's a way of holding on to the one who is gone.

Some of us get lost in grief and wish to move on but don't know how. Some do not have others who will determinedly wade into the darkness, insist that we grab hold, and lead us out.

There is no time table for grief. How fast or slowly an individual moves through it to the far shores, is dependent on so many things. Willingness; being hopeful; a solid sense of Self; a support system that is grounded and loving; one's passion for life; a connection to Spirit; faith in the rightness of things most especially when we can't see or feel it; the ability to trust in the Divine's plan for us; and a desire to live life after major change. A curiosity to see where life leads.

If these things are missing, it becomes difficult to move on. Some get stuck because they do not know how to move through it. But, some stay stuck because it's the only thing they have that's theirs. Some live the grief because it's the only thing that is left of the person we miss. It's the only thing that makes us feel unique, different, or special. Some wear grief and loss as though it is a badge of honor. We keep grief because we think it proves we truly loved someone. Eventually we become defined by our loss instead of known and admired for the courage to take up life once more.

If those around you do not feel you're moving on, some will challenge you. They'll say things like, "Okay, hasn't it been long enough? Time for you to be getting over it, don't you think?" Their words are intended to be supportive but leave holes when they hit your heart. Their concern and fear for you comes out as impatience. Their honesty sounds like judgment. But, when you can finally be honest with yourself, you'll know when you're hanging on to hurt too long.

And, if you don't know how to release it, that's the time to say, "I think that's possible, but I don't know how to let it go. I don't know how to not let it define me anymore. I don't know what to do." Once you admit that, the resources will begin to appear. When you feel the rightness of returning to the living, the way to do that will make itself known. A prayer is always answered.

Occasionally, a griever is surrounded by people completely supportive that they're wounded. They continue to support the 'woundedness' believing they are being loving and kind. Some want you to stay hurt without even being aware that they do. If they live with hurt and dysfunction as part of their construct, they think it usual that you should have the same in your life. On lots of levels, misery loves company and many feed off the drama often associated with intense emotions. If years pass and you still identify your life by your grief, and others around you tell you it's all right that you do... It is NOT all right. Not.

While Love and Grief are corner stones of our Human Experience, Spirit, who loves us does not intend for any to stay stuck in grief, which is a negative state. We are not meant to live with hurt, loss, anger, fear, abandonment as the definers of our existence. We are challenged by our losses and experiences to grow our spirits- grow our bliss. This means we must eventually put grief aside and learn what it means to live a new way. We are meant to continue to share ourselves by living in the light, not surviving in the shadows.

In the Buddhist tradition, all pain and suffering is created by our unwillingness to let go of strong emotions and our insistence on remaining static. Being told this makes us rail- "How dare someone say I am miserable by my own design!" But, if we stop allowing ego to run the show for just a minute and consider that statement, we can also ponder that if that's true, then- We Are Happy by Our Own Design! We possess the power!

We are travelers on this Earth. We are meant to walk through the days of our life, stopping briefly for rests along the way. We are meant to travel through our experiences as we quest to find more. We are meant to flow through our emotions so we can continue to feel, be, and learn. As a Seeker, the question you need to ask is, "Am I moving on? Am I traveling well?" If the answer is no... I think you know what you need to consider.

When, in cemeteries, we see statues of angels mourning, we immediately think it's a representation of the grief felt over one who has died. We very rarely consider that the angel is also weeping for the griever. Grieving that we are hurt, feeling lost, hopeless, lifeless. The grieving angel cries for us frail Humans as we face our demons. They weep with us and for us. They assist us as we move from grieving to remembering.

Your grief is singularly yours. It is another expression of the divine thread you are in this tapestry of life. No one should discount it or make it feel less-than. Likewise, when someone who cares reaches out, regardless of how clumsily they may act or say, don't discount that. Don't say, "Well, you can't know how I feel and what I've lost! How dare you suggest that you do?!" Because the fact is that all of us have suffered loss. All of us. And, while some are more difficult to move on from, our shared humanity means that all of us resonate with what you feel. We all know what it is to grieve something.

Accept a hand when it is extended. Hear the words of concern when they are said and not how they are said. Allow a show of support when it is proffered. Take comfort in any form it is given. Consider help when you know it's time to move on.

And, share your hard-won gift of knowing what it means to move past grief, back into life with others who have lost and grieve. You can be the life line to the one who is in the darkness. But, only if you put grief aside and walk into your life once more. Only if you have the courage to define your life by what is in it instead of being haunted by what has gone from it. I wish you well in your travels. God & Goddess speed you on your way.

Namaste' Till Next Time,
Holly aka A Fellow Traveler
All images courtesy of the Internet except the last one which is mine.


Robin said...

Interesting. I agree with most of your thoughts. It is difficult for me to put ego aside and think about being responsible for my own grief. i think it is easily mistaken for blame in my own thoughts and situation leading to guilt and all of that terrible garbage that comes along with it. I have had two very good mantra's that have appeared in my grief. it began with "you don't get over it, you get through it" and more recently I have honestly decided to not waste my living time grieving. It isn't fair to my life or my family to live in grief. It's like one day I thankfully woke up and knew today I was alive again.

Alison said...

I agree with what you say Holly. Perhaps I would have slightly different ideas on some details but in general I think you have said this so very well. Having had my wonderful daughter die when she was 21 and my husband dying two years later, I have been there. I know about grief! And you HAVE to move on. I know there are people who think I should still be visiting the grave (they are buried together)each week and walking round with a pained expression, but I can't be someone else's person. (And I now live in a different city). That doesn't mean that I don't remember! But I need to keep on living. Thanks Holly.

Toni said...

I've had plenty of occasion for it, grief ... for me the grief experience is and always has been cyclical [just like love, like creativity, like my understanding of my spirituality]. I grieve more strongly then somehow go thru a 'forgettabout it' period, then I'm steady, balanced for a while, then I start the cycle again [with variations on the nuances]. Where others' grief is concerned, I find that I don't have strong opinions because I'm not INSIDE the situation, not grieving from the inside out, but grieving (like your angels, here) FOR the one who is grieving (loved that part). As I said so incoherently and wimpishly on Mel's thoughtful post on this subject, I tend to be a) supportive and b) neutral because it's such a personal, subjective, and potentially VOLATILE subject. Even MY big mouth turns inside on itself in the face of this and a few other subjects. Discussion about it, such as your post here and Mel's post and others, has the potential to help each of us consider WHAT we believe, individually, which is valuable to me. My strongest opinion about the subject that I'm willing to voice publicly is this: this country's fascination with memorializing the memorializing of the celebrity memorializing makes me hurl, i.e. Elvis, Marilyn, Princess Di, next Jacko.

Miss Robyn said...

I have lived in grief (and anger) for such a long time.. over my cancer, my abuse as a child and other stuff.. and I honestly didn't know how to move on.. but little by little Spirit led me.. once I was in the dark night of my soul, when I cried and asked for help to whoever was listening.. found the courage to write my story with the support of people like you and many others... and once that story started being told and I received the comments i have... well, it is like a huge weight of my soul.
I think each of us handles things in different ways and each of us has a care of duty to support the others in whatever way we can... we are all one, right?

I also think that grief is a journey... there is no set rule as to when it is over.. only your own self knows that.. and hopefully there is a kind hand to help you through it..

I could write a whole post on this..

Joanna Jenkins said...

Dear Holly, Your post spoke to me on so many levels. Having been to far too many funerals in the past few years, including one yesterday for a good man younger than me with a wife and three young children, the grief can be overwhelming at times.

I am printing out your post and saving it for the next funeral... sadly I know I have a few more coming up-- to remind me to ASK and accept help through the grieving process.

I know this post came from your heart and I thank you very much. xo

Alicia @ boylerpf said...

So very interesting, Holly. As with most lthings in our lives, we need to take control and move forward. It IS hard when grieving to know that there is a tomorrow that is open to ideas and changes that we need to adapt to our new situation. Loved the post!

Cindy said...

Holly, as you know with the loss of my Dad that this is all very recent to me. Some days I feel strong, other days not so well, but I do know this that I would not be doing as well if it were not for people like you whom have reached out and opened their arms and hearts to me. This is what I know...Why did I start a blog,just before my Dad died, Why was it some of the people from blogland that helped me through the worst time of my life. I think through our blogs we can say what is in our hearts, for some easier than in person. I know that you would tell me what you think and let me take from that what I would. I know that you do not have it in you to hurt someone, but like you said they are sensitive issues. I am glad who you are, how honest you are and you don't need qualifications for that. you just reach into your heart like you do and have done for me. AND I love you for that. P.S. I like the new look over here. fun, fun, Take care.

Joanna Jenkins said...

PS LOVE the new look! Very nice.

david mcmahon said...

No matter how happy or fortunate a life, one is always tested by grief at some stage.

Anne H said...

Holly - this new look is great! I love your blog. And pics. You are an inspiration. I always get so much from what you say.

Sara said...

Dearest Holly,

It is at this time, as I read this post, that I am sure more than ever that we are connected somehow. I spoke very similar words earlier today to a friend. We discussed grief and sadness and the whys and hows of it all. When I came here and read this post, it filled in the spaces within that earlier conversation and it was true and it was right.

Thank you Holly.

xxx said...

Good on you Holly for expressing very clearly your thoughts on the subject of grief.

Grief is an experience of life... not a life sentence.

best wishes always
Ribbon :)

mel said...

My grief is rarely for the person who has beliefs assure me that death is but a part of the the cemetery angels, my grief is for the griever -- sometimes that griever is myself, sometimes it's someone Dear to me....I feel the pain and anguish of their loss as acutely as if it were my own. A large part of what I do in my 'working' life, relates to loss and grief -- because those losses are of the animal variety, makes them no less worthy...

Bottom line -- it is an entirely individual experience and yes, on its own timetable...where that leaves us, as those who might support and guide, I'm still not sure.....I feel my way by intuition and am still learning to Trust it entirely....thus, my meandering post of yesterday and the thoughts which are still swirling around in my head....


CiCi said...

The title of this post caught my interest, why GIFT? As I read your post it became clear why you describe it as a gift. You are right that all of us have experienced grief. For me, learning my life lessons and moving on is healthy. That might not be easy sometimes, but it is necessary if I want to participate in this life fully. The gift is in what I am willing to learn and how I am willing to change and grow and reach out to others. This was my first visit to you blog and I am going to forward it to some other friends.

Jeni said...

An excellent post -beautifully written -and also one very much deserving of the top honor of the day at David McMahon's Authorblog.

Eileen said...

Holly ... right away I was caught with the use of those two words together "gift" and "grief" and how rare it is that anyone would dare to put them out there together. I think in some ways I had it "easy" in that I had four very important reasons to move through grief and be an example of living beyond loss greater than you think your heart or spirit can manage. I am in awe of those that have lost in numbers so many more or those that feel much more alone in their process. Thank you for giving me the hours to mull over this territory again ... I revisit what all it has meant to me ... the good, the bad, the ugly and the "gift".

Sarah Sullivan said...

Dear Holly..wonderful post. Grief like most things is a process - you move through it or you get stuck in it. I have lost many in my life. There is so much human emotion tied up in loss. It really comes down to where you are in that..when you can let it go.
I can so relate to the Buddhist concept of veiwing things as non not attach yourself to anything. My head understands heart struggles hugely with this. When it comes to my children and my is very hard to let go.
I agree that it is such an individual process and cannot be rushed, sometimes though a gentle nudge is needed to help someone move on in the process. You also have to remember that this is someone's path to lead - follow it as they may it is thier path. You can, as you say - only be a support system and help.
Wonderful touching post hon!! You always amaze me Holly!!
Hugs and love, Sarah

Kori said...

Grief is a natural process that we experience after suffering a significant loss. While grieving is difficult and painful, it does not have to immobilize us.The grief process at the onset is difficult, but as time passes we'll begin again to look for reasons to hope.
God gives us hope through salvation in the Lord Jesus. If we believe in Jesus Christ, we not only have a future here on earth but we have a future in heaven.
When we believe in Jesus Christ, grief soon turns to hope. Before long, we are greeting each day again with anticipation and eagerly awaiting our future with Him.
Do you believe this? Then you do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13b).

Holly said...

Kori, I believe that relationship with Spirit winds through many different paths, belief systems, religions, and spiritual journeys.

I am glad that you feel such comfort and joy in yours.

All are welcome here. All add value to my understanding and quest to be better as a spirit and Human Being.

Kathleen Krucoff said...

Hi Holly,

What another powerful, wonderfully written post. You do have great insight. Yes, everyone grieves at their own pace and I have seen some friends get they are unwilling to move on....sometimes you can help, sometimes they don't want the help and would rather stay where they are, just as you mentioned.

You know from some of my recent posts what affect the loss of my parents had on me and my desire to focus on my artistic side. I was told to be at peace and that resonates with me to this day.

Namaste my friend.

The Bird's Staff said...

Holly ~ So gently, firmly and beautifully written. Just perfect, you have such a wonderful gift.

joyce said...

For me the thought of grief and losing a child is too much to even want to think about. Its taking a great deal for me to write, and I confess I couldn't read your entire post. If I lost a child, I would not go on living. Plain and simple. I know its the wrong idea, but, the pain would be unbearable.
Interesting that you do reiki, and its too bad you're not a therapist, becuase I have a feeling you would be wonderful at it!
With love & pain

Kyddryn said...

I boil my grieving philosphy down to this: Honor the dead by living.

Of course I am sorrowful that the person as I knew them in this life is gone, save in memory. Loss hurts. goes on.

I've mourned friends, family, and strangers, and I've offered comfort when it was needed...but always, I have remembered that life goes on, and I do feel we honor those who've passed by getting on with it, remembering the joy, letting go of the sorrow, and living.

Shade and Sweetwater,

Big Pissy said...

My mother died when I was 14 years old. She'd been sick for as long as I could remember, so her death wasn't a surprise. It was almost a relief. She wouldn't suffer anymore and maybe we (my father and one brother still living at home) could have some sort of a normal life that didn't revolve around her illnesses, doctor visits, medication....etc.

So I didn't grieve. I was in the 8th grade and moved on with the business of being a cute, perky, popular junior high princess. Stepped up my activities at school and stayed busy.

It was when I had daughters of my own that I grieved for my mother....wished that she were there....thought about all the events in my life that she'd missed...all the things I would share with my daughters that she and I had both missed out on.

This may all sound weird and hard and perhaps even heartless. But that's how I dealt with it. I think everyone deals with it their own way.

introspection said...

It is amazing how you put across so beautifully that Grief can be A Gift. My first time at your post. Came via David's POTD. You derserve it hands down. Cheers.!
I have seen and experienced grief from many angles; may not be as deep as others but grief is not quantitative. And as you said every one deals with it in their own way. I know a certain gentleman who has been inflicted with crippling illnesses and other very many complications. Every time a doctor tells him the diagnosis or about a complicated surgery processes, he goes into a barrage of abusive stints at family members for days, and weeks. As if the healthy family members were responsible for his condition. I believe he is dealing with his losses in this way. My niece lost her father at 18, and had not a tear to shed at his funeral. She just became mechanical for weeks and weeks. Then a few months later it was her Dad's birthday which triggered the grief. At midnight that day, she griefed her loss physically - there was unstoppable weeping and and nothing would contain her tears. I guess this was her way of dealing with her loss. Then onwards she began to feel things rather than being mechanical about every thing including expression of love for her mom (my sister) who was grieving the loss of her husband.
yes, we all deal with it differently and to move on is INEVITABLE. Without grief we would not know the value of happiness and love.
Loved your post Holly.

Arcta Firebringer said...

Holly, your words made me think of the Goddess as Binah, the Sorrowful Mother. She who brings all life into form knows that the act of creation is also the releasing of that which does NOT come into form, that which never lives, and she grieves each and every one who is not manifested. The gift of grief is the gift of touching that goddess spirit more directly.
Grief is stranded through our lives along with joy, anger, outrage, peace and love, and so many other things. It is a gift to live our lives more completely; it is a gift to be able to see, from the depths of our grieving, that there is still magick in the world, and we are still surrounded by it

Celestite said...

what a great post.

And I like the new look for the blog too.

Mimi said...

I agree with you. If you love on this earth, you cannot escape grief, much as we might like to.

"Everything we call a trial. a sorrow, or a duty, believe me, that angel's hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence".
Fra Giovanni wrote in 1513- still valid today.

Brian Miller said...

great post. grief is something you must travel through. avoiding it only seems to prolong the journey. good wisdom here. congrats on teh POTD.

Life With Dogs said...

Great advice for a subject that has much to teach all of us - the power of grief demands that it be given proper consideration, and the time necessary for it to fade away just enough for us to remember what we still have left.

Anonymous said...

LOVE this entry. - Stef with an F

Unknown said...

Here from Joanna's post.
This is so beautifully and tenderly written.
And much of it touched places in me as well.
thank you.

CiCi said...

This is one of the best writings I have ever read on grief. Grief is sometimes temporary as in a trial separation from a spouse. Grief is sometimes shared with a grown child whose husband passed away from cancer. Grief, if not dealt with in a healthy way, can become a selfish sick interloper. I so like your writing that I am asking you if it would be all right with you if I use this post to send to a friend. This in depth concise and kind writing must take a lot out of you, must take hours to polish and edit. Thank you for taking that time and sharing with all who are led to your blog.

Dawn said...

You have seen me at my very worst in grief, Holly. When Joe died (is it even right to compare that? it certainly felt like the worst possible emotion one could ever bear, be it towards 2 legs or 4) the doubt of whether or not some piece of him still exists was the hardest thing barrier to overcome. From my experience, the support (that was so very welcome at the time) came in the people that acknowledged him. The ability to move forward came from those that helped me think through the possibilities of his current existence. I am so thankful to those that quickly supported me and then backed slowly away to allow me to become accustomed to the new normal. Thank you so much for all you did during that time.

Dawn said...

And one more quick comment for Joyce- As I have defined my belief system, which is not traditional, but not completely non-traditional, one thing I struggled with was the loss of a child. I have 2. They are adults now. Handsome, caring men. The unthinkable used to keep me up at night (and they are both perfectly healthy, but my mind said "what if, what if, what if"). I finally came to a realization that within my belief system, if they moved to the next place, I would continue to fulfill my responsibilities in this place. I would get out of bed. I would keep moving. I would live without regret. Thankfully I haven't had to test that theory, but it no longer keeps me awake. I hope you can find peace within your belief system as well. Love, Dawn

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