Why do we grieve at all? Wouldn’t it be more helpful for some switch to flip in our brains when a close member of our family or community dies, causing us simply to forget they ever existed? We could just move on, rearrange our lives so everyone could function as best as they could without that person being there.
We grieve though, and it seems that other mammals grieve too. It’s been suggested that Dogs, Elephants, Primates, Dolphins and other animals grieve. I’ve heard stories from friends of Crows grieving, gathering to surround a fallen member of their family. Even expressing concern for how the feathered body is treated. I suspect more animals grieve than we realize.
When my wife died it certainly would have been helpful to be able to turn those feelings off. I could have stepped much more readily into my role as a single parent. No grief to worry about, no weight constantly pulling me down. I could have surrounded my children with my own happiness, something that took a long time for me to discover again.
I was in Big Grief, not one that I felt inside me, but one that swallowed me whole. Now when I feel grief, years later, it’s within me. I can understand how grief feels manageable for some of us, because we still experience ourselves as bigger than the grief. But when Big Grief comes, it manages you. There is no escaping it.
That kind of grief is very important in our lives and the lives of our communities, though we may all seek to avoid it. It points to a level of interconnectedness our sciences have yet to really fully understand. It reveals the way in which our spirits are woven together, all moderated through our hearts.
As a new father, one of my favorite activities was bedding down together; baby, 5 year old, Momma and Pappa. Sometimes our sleeping location was blankets laid out on our land, or beds pushed together in an earthen sleeping loft up on the land. Often there was wrestling or dancing before bed. When we finally fell asleep it wasn’t like the party ended so much as it moved into a collective dream journey.
I felt that we were all contributing ourselves to a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. We were sleeping within the energetic body of the family. And within each one of us that family could be found, a microcosm that mirrored the macrocosm. We were deeply, thoroughly woven together.
What happens when a person is removed from that larger whole? The living all feel it of course, deeply, desperately. We are broken open by the realization that one soul, the exquisitely powerful presence of our family’s Mother, is no longer here. She has, against her own mighty will, been carved out of that sacred being we call US.
How do we all heal from that loss? Grief is the only answer. We don’t realize it but when we grieve we are letting go of her, releasing the space that was hers. For a time we may all drift as if we have no place in this universe any more, but eventually our connections will draw us together again. As we grieve we create the energy to fill the empty places with our own presence. The family starts to mend and our own hearts are gradually, delicately, stitched back together. As we grieve, we heal, even if we can’t see it at the time.
Depression, sorrow, or grief?
We don’t readily differentiate between depression, sorrow, and grief in our culture. During my initial period of grieving the loss of my wife I asked my Hospice counselor if she thought I was depressed. She answered “no”, there were other symptoms like low self-esteem, low energy, associated with depression that I didn’t have. Grief can trigger depression, but it is not depression. I have observed in others depression triggered by grief. It’s very painful and seems to slow the mending aspect of grief. Depression works against griefs medicine. The grief will stay, however, until it’s done. If the depression eases, grief will finish its work.
What about sorrow? Its etymology in Dutch and German pertains more to worry or concern. My sense is that sorrow can be caused by things other than personal loss (be it your own or the loss a friend or companion suffers.) Sorrow can clearly run as deep as grief, perhaps we could call it grief’s twin, but it does not seem to lead to mending. We can have sorrow for the sufferings of the world for the whole of our lives, it may lead to nothing else besides more sorrow. Sorrow is its own teacher, but it does not seem to make families more whole, or bring us back to the world the same way that grief does.
We never think that if we are able to be in depression or sorrow as a group, it will make us feel better. However if we are able to grieve together its power to transform us all becomes much more clear. Sharing grief with others reveals its healing qualities almost immediately. Shared grief can slide easily into laughter. It can lead to new stories and memories unearthed. It can encourage us to settle old trespasses and reassert important attachments. Grief more than depression or sorrow is ultimately necessary for life to continue. Grief is life-giving. We can live without depression and probably even sorrow, as all animals other than humans seem to. But I don’t think we can live without grief. Grief is one of those things that makes us whole.
Not all of us want to be whole. I learned that sitting in Hospice drop in groups. It was mostly men who had lost their wives of 30, 40 and 50 years that didn’t want anything to feel better. Their wound said to the world, “she is forever gone and it’s not alright. It will never be alright.” Their wound was the only thing that could memorialize the magnitude of her loss. I respect how they feel. Maybe they know the path to healing would have to extend far beyond any reasonable length of their own life. Better to die with the memory of her carved into my being, laid bare for the world to see. Some of us can hide from grief, stop its mending. Chase despair instead.
But if we live long enough, grief will have its way with us. It just comes with having a heart and soul. The heart is the great mediator of grief. It is aware of the past that we have lost, what exists in the now and a little of what can be anticipated in the future. It can take us back through time to moments of unresolved grief we had totally forgotten existed. It can make those moments of loss as fresh as today, now. This is how grief continues to renew us, make us available to community and life. Grief brings us to life, after loss has taken us away from life. Some of us fear griefs deep song, but we should not. Grief mends as nothing else does.
Grieving may be one of the most masterful talents of the heart.
Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.
“Everyone sees the wings you made grow on us…”
I’ve shared our healing journey of grief in this well received memoir. I hope you’ll click below to explore more how grief heals.