Thursday, August 20, 2015

To overcome, struggle, grapple, beat, heal, and resolve...

Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer. The secret to redemption lies in remembrance.

-Richard von Weizsaecker







All words we would use to describe an enemy or an unwanted 'thing' in our lives. Yet, all words I've seen used repeatedly on the Internet in the context of grieving the death of a child, spouse, sibling, or parent.

Some cultures so desperately promote the idea of being rid of grief, of vanquishing it, causing it to evaporate as if it never was. Then, as the myth goes, once we've done that, we will acquire the long-sought happiness that rightly belongs to us.  The preponderance of the time, our own culture is this way.  We are obsessed with happiness and comfort and instant gratification. We advocate ways to 'beat' grief (overcome, recover, resolve, move on, etc) at the expense of fully inhabiting our authentic and rightful emotions associated with loss, sometimes at the behest of those who seek to profit from such 'interventions' or 'therapies' or coaching. But is this really the best approach for us in our quest to become fully human? The great philosopher Rollo May said:

One does not become fully human painlessly.

For two decades, I've been working to teach the traumatically bereaved how to accommodate, befriend, and even respect their own grief, how to make room for grief in their hearts, minds, and souls. I've been teaching students and providers how to be with their own grief in order to truly be present with the grief of another.  It's working.  I'm seeing a cultural shift in the attitudes toward grief, albeit slowly (and sometimes with a little help from a little boy who died and one of my beautiful grieving mamas along with a celebrity named Taylor Swift).

To try to overcome, beat, struggle with, grapple with, resolve or recover from grief feels like an extraordinarily exhausting feat, particularly when that grief is incited by the death of child. There is something perennial about child death in a family system.  I can imagine, for me, if I'd spent all my time wrestling with grief, by now, 21 years later, I would be a mere fragment of who I am today. I would not be able to feel the depth of joy or meaning or compassion I experience now. I know this. And happiness? As Victor Frankl said, we cannot pursue it. It must ensue. It is an outcome, not a goal to meet or a quality to acquire. And it can be experienced only as a result of life, love, and grief well-lived.

Simply put, I love my grief because it is a connection to my love. I never want to recover, be rid of, resolve, wrestle with, or "move on" from grief. Does this mean I can still be joyful? Productive? Have a life of meaning? Of course. The same horizon that holds the sun also holds the moon.

What would happen if, as a culture, we could spend our energy learning to integrate our grief instead of beating, resolving, struggling with, or overcoming it? What would happen if, as a culture, we could share our pain with one another? Remember our dead together? Listen to expressions of sorrow everywhere we go without needing to run or change the feelings of the Other? Open our hearts to the suffering of other people, animals, and the earth? Truly connect as one with everything in all the beauty and all the pain?

My guess is that our hearts would expand, making room for more authentic friendships, deeper joys, more meaning and purpose in our lives, and most importantly deep and enduring compassion for others, for self, for all beings, and for the earth.

And, that is the kind of world we'd all want.


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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