Being with Grief
I learned the power of simply being when I was in seminary. In those days, I would phantom away to a small convent along the Connecticut coast. There, where no one knew me or cared who I was, I could simply be in God’s presence. I would go to their simple chapel to be in God’s presence. I would listen to the sisters sing and pray. I didn’t have to answer questions, respond to needs, or worry about any of the social dynamics of living in a 400-person school or working in a church. I could just be. I didn’t have to worry about what anything “meant.” It was prayer, silence, and renewal. I was able to be with God. Being with God is very different from asking for meaning. Grief is not the enemy.
When I ask for meaning, it is asking for judgment at some level. Intentionally or unintentionally, I end-up giving a value to my grief when I ask about its’ meaning. Grief becomes “good” or “bad.” I try to measure it in weeks, months, and years. In my own journey, I have worked very hard to not do this. I have tried to stay present with the grief without measuring it or judging it. I have tried to not give grief a “value,” per se. My inclination is to measure, value, and make a judgment. Being with grief, observing it, is enough even though my inclination is different. I am inclined to give meaning in some way. Grief has become a powerful teacher in this way.
Being with grief allows me to be fully present to what I am experiencing without any sort of judgment about it. It is neither good nor bad. It is neither rational nor irrational. Grief simply is. Grief has companioned me for a time now. In its’ companionship, I have learned a new self-reliance. I have faced old hurts and wounds which have defined me. I realized past realities and traumas which profoundly shape me; I didn’t realize how much I had been shaped by them until grief was able to show me. Grief has been with me on this journey. Without grief as a companion on this journey, I don’t believe I could have made the journey. Learning to be present to all those emotions and thoughts, the questions and memories is what grief has taught me. I can be present to the emotions, thoughts, questions, and memories without being overwhelmed by them when grief is companion not enemy. Grief has taught me to step back and ask myself, “I wonder why I’m feeling/remembering/thinking about X (whatever X is) in this moment?” It has been like a friend with a hand on a shoulder to remind me to pay attention.
I have experienced grief as that raw bundle of emotion which we all experience at first. I have also experienced it changing from that bundle of raw emotion to a companion on a journey, something very different from at first. Grief has become the companion to help sort through the memories as I give them new meaning. I look at old family stories with new eyes, or perhaps without the blinders of the past. It’s not grief whose meaning I need to understand. I simply need to be with grief. Grief helps guide me on this path. Grief helps me sort through and to make sense of the memories, stories, events, and happenings of my life.
A few weeks back, I sorted through the last things I’d brought back with me from my mothers after her death. I got through nearly everything except for a small pile of things on my dining room table. Honestly, I can’t bring myself to put the things on the dining room table away in a drawer or clean up that last small pile of stuff. Grief keeps reminding me that I need to get it done; it’s time. But I can’t do it just yet. It’s not grief which stops me; it’s me which stops me. Grief is ready for this final part of that physical journey to be completed. I can’t bring myself to the task.
An eerie silence fell over the house as I wrote that last paragraph. The birds outside stopped chirping, no trucks or cars made any noise, no clocks stuck an hour or quarter or half, no airplane flew overhead, no wind blew outside. It was as if in that moment, the world stood still asking me when I was going to get the final sorting of physical items completed. Soon.