Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Artists of Dark Mountains








painting by Alec DeJesus, “Vices of the Burning Bear” 

When grief comes, and suffering pulls a shroud over the sun, we move into the shadows of dark alleys and walk over shards of broken meaning. We may feel abandoned and alone, but at least this place is safe from trauma.

The darkness is where artists go to create. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Never Goes Away

We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.  Proust

In my early days of grief, as I searched through books looking for answers into what had ripped my life apart, I noticed that Rainer Maria Rilke and Washington Irving had different opinions about grief.

Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, writes that we carry sadness around for too long instead of letting it pass. He says that sadness brings something new into our lives so we should let go of the sadness and pay attention to what is in the shadows waiting to be explored: “A stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Life is a River

I do not like dying. None of us do, I suppose. Every time someone or something we love dies, part of us dies, too.
Whenever I return to Yosemite, I want to see the places I’ve come to love, but invariably they have changed in some way, and I can’t stop them from doing this. After my wife died, I wanted to preserve every aspect of my life with her, but I suspect that if I’m focused on an increasingly dusty past, I will miss seeing what life is doing now. Trying to stop life from changing is like trying to hold back the flow of the Merced River with my hands. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Suffering

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Rumi

We think if we’re suffering that something is wrong. This is probably true. No one likes to suffer, but suffering is going to be part of everyone’s life. 

Some suffering is temporary. We get a cold. Our college team loses a close game in the national basketball tournament. Other suffering is the result of something we do. We get a sunburn because we didn’t apply sunblock. We drink untreated water from a mountain stream and pick up the giardia lamblia parasite that has us running for a few days. Sometimes we choose to endure suffering in order to reach a goal, like giving up time at home to work a second job so that we can take the family on a long-overdue vacation.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Clowns Are Bearers of Compassion








I like clowns. Some people don’t. Maybe they’re thinking of birthday clowns who entertain children and make squeaky balloon animals. Or the demented creeps who terrorize the woods. Or maybe the neo-fascist I-hate-people clowns. If this is the case with you, then think about fools instead. Fools like Buster Keaton, who, through his innocence and vulnerability, made us laugh and changed the world around him. Shakespeare had his rustic fools.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Riffs on Grief

Those who grieve don’t need words of sympathy. They need hugs and our presence.

Compassion brings hope back into the struggle, for others and for ourselves.

When someone close to us dies, we’re no longer in a rush to go in life from Point A to Point Z. Getting to a final destination no longer matters. We aim to survive this day, and to live and love as best we can. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

After the Funeral, There's the Quiet

Today I’m thinking about Emily Rapp’s experience after her two-year-old infant son Ronan died, as well as about people I’ve loved who died in April — my wife Evelyn, John’s wife Anne, and Judy’s husband John. I hold them in my heart, along with those I don’t know who also lost loved ones this month. Each year, this month of death makes us moody, sometimes snarly, when we think about what could have, should have, been.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Forgiveness









When we lose someone close, we experience many conflicting emotions. Among them is deciding if we are going to forgive those who may have caused, or did not prevent, the death. 

My wife Evelyn died of a heart attack in a doctor’s office, with paramedics who came from across the street. Someone had to have made a mistake because dying in your 40s is wrong. I really wanted to blame one of them. And yet, even though they were unsuccessful in restarting her heart, I had to let go of blaming them, because they tried. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Walking the Desert Road

After the horror of Good Friday, after the utter despair of Holy Saturday, after the unexpected joy of Easter Sunday, came Monday morning when the disciples wondered what they were to do now.

The future they envisioned had come crashing down, and their leader, the person they loved, was gone. But they had changed because of him and, sink or swim, they were resolved to continue on and make the dream real. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Loving Differently

I love you, even though we have never met. I love you because you have suffered a terrible loss and are grieving. I know how important it is in this time to feel love from other people, even people you don’t know.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Dying and Grief

Book: Kate Bowler, Everything Happens For a Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved

Most of the grief memoirs in bookstores are about dying. They’re not about grieving someone who has died. I don’t know why. Grieving goes on longer than dying, in most cases, yet both are epic journeys of fighting to survive. We gain insights and wisdom by reading both.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Stupid Things That Caring People Say About Grief

There is a difference between sharing words of sympathy, empathy, and compassion, and to the one who is grieving, it’s a big difference. Sympathy uses stock phrases that convey civility but not heart, and says things like this: “I’m sorry you’re suffering. This has to be hard, but I’m glad it’s not me.” Empathy moves the listener closer: “I lost my father last year so I know how grief consumes your every thought.” Compassion takes the listener right in: “Let me sit with you for a while and you can tell me what your grief is doing.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Self Care for Caregivers








Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen. Ruth Krauss

What gives people the strength and endurance to take care of others over a period of time? While most of us are happy to help people out now and then, a number of my friends are providing long-term care.

- Some have helped a struggling parent for a decade.
- One has patiently taken care of a bed-ridden wife for eight years.
- One dealt with her husband’s ongoing depression.
- Another copes with his wife’s dementia, knowing that it will only get worse
            and additional care will be required.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Integrating Our Loss

Dark Night 4 of 4

Grief takes our world apart and sets us down in darkness, in a time and place away, where we can figure out how we are going to restructure our lives. The grief we feel over the death of someone close challenges our beliefs. It takes us to the far edge of faith as we try to comprehend what has torn our hearts apart. We cannot see our way ahead and feel abandoned.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Breathe. Eat. Sleep.

Self care for the grief battered.

In the beginning of grief, it’s hard to care about anything. We’re exhausted, and we don’t care about anything. This includes taking care of ourselves.

We’re much better at taking care of others who are grieving because then we don’t have to face our own despair. Some of us also find it hard to let others help us because that says we’re not as independent as we like to think we are. Be humble and accept their help. And if we inadvertently do something nice for ourselves, it just feels wrong.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

100 Miles Beyond Where Jesus Lost His Sandals

Dark Night 3 of 4

Today is Ash Wednesday when the Lenten journey of refocusing one’s life begins for Christians. It’s also Valentine’s Day when we celebrate our heart’s yearning. For some the two are intimately twined.

The title of this post is something I heard recently. I don’t know its origin. It struck me as fitting both the journey of grief and the journey of faith when we have traveled far beyond everything we know and are simply trying to survive today.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Café Adagio




Grief advice for a complacent millennial.

Sometimes you need attitude when talking to people about grief because many are still clueless, and polite words don’t penetrate their foot of insulation. Grief isn’t polite. It’s messy and filled with stampeding bison, but it also invites kindness, if we are paying attention.

This is an imaginary conversation — what I wish I could say.
            *
Put your iPhone down and look at me. I asked you a very simple question, you know-it-all punk. All you had to do was answer like a normal person and we wouldn’t be in this situation. Tell me “It’s complicated” “Hard” “A drag” Whatever! 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Inherited Grief


We are taught how to grieve by the legacy carried in our families, or, more often, we are taught how to cover death up. This presented a problem when my wife Evelyn died.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Secondary Losses

(for K.)

No one just dies, and no one just grieves.  

Grief is complicated. You lose more than the person when someone dies. You lose a network of connections, your foundations are shaken, and you no longer know who are.

Self. You lose part of yourself, because part of you came alive when they were around. You can’t just plug someone new into the hole and go on as before. You choose your friends carefully, and their deaths take chunks of you away. Who are you now?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Courage In the Wilderness

Dark Night 2 of 4: Weaving the Shadows Together

Brené Brown, in her book Braving the Wilderness, writes: “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”