Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Grief's Fire at Sweet 16

A circumspect message from my fortune cookie yesterday, 7/27/10
It brought both a smile, gratitude, & some tears

Chey's butsudan

Sometimes, when I am visited by grief, words to describe our time together drip from my fingers, like anxious rain drops drip off my redwood patio, onto the thirty rosebush below, and over the heather river rocks.

At other times, words forsake me, march into hiding, and my fingertips dry up like the crusty, desert soil. I become overtaken by grief that is word-less. When this happens, I often find myself more emotional than usual, unable to transform my tears into neat little letters of the alphabet, the ones my children tried so hard to sound, the ones that make feelings more sensical and manageable, ordered and less chaotic.

I realized that one of the central points I've learned is that my grief mastery requires a constant balancing between staying close enough to the fire that I feel its heat, but not so close that I am entrapped and burned by it. I don't want to forget my pain, or disinvite grief from my life. Certainly not. To do so would be to relinquish ties, and to do that would be to dismiss my love for her. No. Yet, I could not constantly remain sitting so close to the fire that it seduces me into its flames, harkening me to stay, don't leave, persuading me to come closer. It would paralyze me, capture me, and surely I could not see anyone else sitting 'round the fire, entranced by its dark and delicious ambiguity.

I sat by the fire this week. I was mesmerized. 16 is a big-girl-year, and it hit with hot fury. However, I choose not to sit so close today, stare too long, or give up my place in the world of the living. So I am scooting away, and turning my back to the fire until it, again, needs attention- a piece of wood or some oxygen to breathe.

There are too many hurting others, too much love in my life and the world, too much beauty yet undiscovered, for me to stay in that place right now. We had our time together, deeply enmeshed, and the flames of grief have reminded me of their power. That energy is better used elsewhere, for now, though, and it's a new day.

Happy 16th Birthday Chey. Like the flames of grief, my love for you will never, ever die. You are, indeed, that which casts its shadow on all that is both painful and beautiful in my life.

**And, a very special thank you to all those who remembered, sent notes, and lit candles. You cannot imagine how much it means to have others think of her life. Thank you so much**

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cultural Experiences in Death: More in common than that which differs

Love is the only possible explanation for the extraordinary suffering throughout the world.
-Oscar Wilde

Ethnographic research is one of my favorite, wherein the outsider becomes part of the system in which she is studying, not intending to incite change, but simply to learn. I spent this summer on a Hutterite colony, an Amish-like communal, Germanic society built upon faith, pacifism, and agriculture.

And learn I certainly did.

I am working on the paper now, which I hope to publish in one of my favorite thanatology journals. But I do want to, out-loud, express my gratitude to each and every mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather, friend, and neighbor with whom I spoke who shared, so openly, the painful struggle of infant and child death on the colony. I know none of you will ever read this, but your stories have touched me in profound ways. I will carry the memories of all your children and grandchildren with me, in my heart, all my days on Earth. I am grateful.

What did I learn from this primarily homogeneous culture? Our family systems and structures are contradistinct. Housing structure and proximity vastly different. Religious practices vary a great deal. Even language and garb differ.

Yet, the hearts of grieving parents who have lost children bleeds the same from one culture to another, traversing any differences, and creating an invisible bond of shared pain. No words needed to be exchanged to know this. It could be felt resonating throughout the walls of rooms where tears were so generously expressed, and the eyes of grieving parents resembled so many others I'd seen in my 15 years of work.

Love and suffering, and love, connect us all.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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