My daughter taught herself how to grieve, or maybe its better to say her soul reminded her how to grieve. She didn’t have a good model in me, I hold too much in. I cry, but its often in fits and starts – call it choking up a whole live fish you tried to swallow after drinking too much at a college party. Its only been recently, a year after my wife Terry’s death, that my tears are easier, light, cleansing.
Truly started out not knowing what her grieving feelings were. I’d see her running and playing, then she would suddenly slow down as if to pause and look inside herself. After about half a minute the feelings passed and she started playing again. For a while there was a break when I started seeing someone who might become her new Mother. Truly really liked that. She liked the new Mom, liked the idea of replacing the gone Mom and all of those hard feelings with someone new who was here. But that didn’t work out. I realized afterwards that she really wasn’t ready for a new Mom. It was better for her to feel the loss of her Mom more. Better for me too.
After the breakup she started to find things to cry about. Little hurts became big hurts, small problems very very big problems. It all culminated with Freddie The Grieving Stick. She attached herself to a stick, one her brother threw away just after she’d named it. After a huge meltdown Tadg found and returned him. She slept with Freddie for several nights before I stuck him into a hole in one of the posts of her bed. Months passed and then one night before sleep she asked me to get rid of him.
“Really, you want me to throw Freddie away?”
“Yes.” She was doing that flopping-around-not-looking-at-anything-in-particular thing she does when something is up.
“OK.” I picked up Freddie and looked at him with great seriousness.
“Thank you Freddie for being with us. Your friendship has been greatly valued by True and the rest of the family. Good luck to you in your future endeavors.” I opened the window and tossed Freddie out.
She climbed calmly into bed and then had her first really good cry about Momma.
“I want Momma! I wish Momma was here!”
I held her, Tadg held us. She cried herself to sleep.
That was leading up to Christmas. Her tears built until about a week before Santa came. After that she seemed to find balance with her grief. She would kiss and hug the sister-stone we had made for Terry in the garden. She talks about missing Momma, sometimes with tears sometimes not. We all share in those moments with her.
Sitting in the back of our new (used) truck. “I’m sad.”
“I miss Momma.”
“You wish she were enjoying the new truck with us?”
“Me too sweetie, Momma would love our new truck.”
And then she’s done.
I studied grief in college. Typical. I wrote about the dismemberment of the process of caring for the dying and dead in the U.S. that happened over generations, starting with the early settlers. I then talked about the rise of the modern Hospice movement, how it was so great. It was very smart, I even related it to Marxism and the rise of the middle- class. I trained at several Hospices and became a Volunteer Visitor. I was very smart and super compassionate. Hey, we’ve got this dialed in. I should have realized then that the problem really wasn’t about grief. It was about our way of life.
Grief takes care of itself if you let it. Its community we have to heal.
I sit in a circle at my local Hospice sometimes, I usually get something out of it, some reminder of what I’m going through. The Hospice workers are great at leaving grief an open question, they affirm that we all grieve differently. But I think what we’re really working on healing there has nothing to do with grief. It has everything to do with how fragmented our society is, how it does not support community, family, and our deepest humanity. We feel at odds with the world in a way we never did before.
Secretly we’re trying to tame our grief because it does not fit in our well constructed portfolios of life.
I find myself managing my grief, measuring it, charting it. Is that supposed to make things safer? How strange. I have a hard time breaking out of that impulse to make things palatable, keep things organized. But grief is one of those things that ultimately will bring us back into the wildness of life. If we don’t let it, I believe it will make us sick in some way.
Real grief will never be polite enough to fit in our world. We’ve barely started to accept death.
When you live with children who have no mother, every day is colored with some grief. Watching them navigate their lives without her is like watching young, glorious falcons learning to fly without there being any air for their wings to push against. We all want it to change, it isn’t right, but it is also what is real. We seem incapable of honoring that, its too painful. My kids are already born into the reality of the fragile impermanence of life. If we nurture that, good things can come of it, perhaps a stronger community. Perhaps falcons that can fly through any storm.
Yesterday I brought my grief with me to the river I’m working with. I sat there first, I promised myself I’d start observing what was happening at the rivers edge before I began my practice. I’ve been thinking of my dance as a conversation with the forest. Its only polite to listen first before joining a conversation. Feeling into my heart I knew there were stuck places there, ridgid places. I started my dance out onto the rocks of the water. Breathing into that stuck place.
The river felt alive as soon as my movement took me into an altered state, it talked to me, told me I was still holding onto the death of my Father.
“My Father, really?”
“Yes because you believe your Father is seperate from you. He’s not. We are all one. Always. Even in death.”
That was hard for me to swallow.
“When you run through the forest, run with him. When you dance here, dance with him.”
Of course the river was right. I kept all of that at arms length, wanted to compartmentalize my Father and his passing. I was done with that. When I ran back through the woods I invited his spirit to be with me. Felt myself opening more to the forest.
What will it be like, someday, when my children are running through the forest after I’ve died? Will they feel me with them, sharing in their joy?
Can we let this happiness and sorrow mix, making something new and beautiful?
Tadg had an unexpected trip to the ER last week. It turned out to be nothing but he was in a lot of pain for a long time. When we finally drove away from the hospital a huge smile spread across his face.
“It was a Momma miracle,” he said.
“That the pain went away so quickly?”
“Yeah, that was Momma.”
That truth settled into him deeply, falling into every part of him. He was so satisfied, he glowed all the way back into town.
I’m sure he is right. She’s with us all the time.
Blessing to you and yours during this time of great change.