When we lose someone we love, a part of us just wants to be relieved of the suffering, and we naturally think of our grief as something that must be endured or as a necessary stage to pass through or to get over. We might say we’re in a period of mourning, or talk about “getting through” the grief or “dealing with” it – as if grief were an unwelcome detour down a brambly backwoods path, or a rough adversary barring our way forward. And it certainly feels that way sometimes, like the grief has slowed us down, waylaid us, and made it difficult or impossible to get on with life. Sometimes it even makes it difficult to do the simplest of day-to-day tasks, things that would normally be second nature for us. It’s easy to feel a bit lost in it.
There’s no doubt that this is a true representation of grief and our experience of it, but I wonder if I’m not doing grief a disservice when I think of it basically as an obstacle, as something to get over or around or through so that things can get “back to normal.”
First, why should things get back to normal at all? Hasn’t the world been fundamentally changed by the loss? Our grief serves a potentially beautiful and, perhaps, underappreciated role in helping us to dwell deeply for a while with the memory of those we’ve lost, to hold them close and contemplate the love they shared and the life they lived, including whatever message their life holds for us now. What lessons did they impart to us, what wisdom to apply to our own journeying?
Is it really so wise to try and shoulder through our grief and envision the goal as getting past it so we can get “back to life” as quick as possible? Maybe this new world – irrevocably altered by the changed human landscape – will have to be reckoned with, to be understood on new terms and approached in new ways. In the absence of someone we held so dear, are we even the same person we were before? In some ways, yes; in others, maybe not so much. Do we, too, need to be transmuted by this process, by this dying, by this grief? All of it takes time and reflection, a slow turning towards a new day.
Rather than thinking of grief as an adversary, an ailment, or an obstacle barring our way to living, how would our experience of grief be transformed by thinking of it as a blessing, given to us at a time when we need to be minded perhaps a little bit more than usual? What if our grief, rather than being some fierce and frightsome thing, were in fact a companion for our journey, a benevolent guide and counselor – a Comforter, even – to accompany us as we head off, with fear and trembling, on a walk through the valley of the shadow of death? It’s a frightening road through that valley, and we need all the comfort, all the solace, and all the grace we can get to help us make it through.
So I guess what I’m wondering today is, what are we supposed to do with our grief, and what exactly can we ask of it? Is it just something to be dealt with and gotten through so we can get back to regular life and business-as-usual? Or does our grief come to us accompanied by a personalized invitation into a life that is deeper and different than the one we lived before – a life transformed by sorrow, yes, but also by an abiding joy and love, by our own willingness to be vulnerable, and by our willingness to be broken open by loss.
As Leonard Cohen sang, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” That’s definitely a relief, since my own personal cracks and struggles are pretty obvious to me these days, although I’m still not sure how to make the most of it, of how best to wrestle with the grief, or to what end.
For now, relieved of the need to look like I’ve got it all figured out, I make my way through the darkness, feeling out ahead for an opening, and looking for the light.