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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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Balancing Grief

Moving From the Rollercoaster to the Teeter-totter

Riding a rollercoaster is a lot of fun. But not for hours every day, and not if we didn’t want to go but wanted to stay curled up in a dark, still room.

Admittedly, in the early days and weeks of grief we don’t have a choice of rides. Grief takes us where it wants to go. It also tears through our hearts like a heavy-hoofed bison. We can’t stop the thoughts of grief from churning in our heads 24 hours a day, and we’re worn out by the effort to make sense of what will probably never make sense.

And then, one day, we notice that we have a choice. We can stay home and stew in our grief, go with a friend for coffee at a local cafĂ©, or go to an afternoon movie when there are only two other people there. In the beginning we may not enjoy doing this, but it gets us out of the house. We breathe fresh air, feel the warm sun on our face, and get a little exercise. At the very least it’s a change of scenery.

Gradually we begin to enjoy doing things again, and feel moments of pleasure.

Okay, that’s all preamble to what I really want to say, and it speaks to how we live our lives, with grief now part of the mix — We need to balance our days.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

I’ve always taken this to mean that over the course of our lives there will be months when we grieve and months when we celebrate. But I’m going to bring in the ancient Celts for a different perspective. Their melancholy music got my attention when I was grieving because I was feeling melancholy and stumbling around like a punch-drunk sailor holding on to the beautiful, loving memories of my wife and bellowed in sorrow around the house.

Celtic music often starts with a sad tune that winds its way into a happy tune that then finds its way back into sad, and so on. This was my reality. So I read about the Celts and learned they felt that every day there would be something to mourn and something to celebrate, and they wanted to honor and pay due respects to both. So each day they would cry and each day they would laugh. This is not easy to do for those of us who are emotionally stiff and don’t shift easily between emotions.

When grieving, it’s easy to fall into a mood and let it consume the day. To fall into a funk. A deep dark stagnant funk of depression.

Here’s the thing. It’s okay to be both sad and happy each day. It’s okay to help someone in their mourning, and later go out dancing, because we’re talking about life here, and life is for living, not compartmentalizing and saying things like, “Today I will devote myself to being sad, and tomorrow I will be happy.” Or “I will let my anger at my neighbor for letting his dog poop in my yard ruin my outing with friends.”

Life doesn’t work like that. Every day a lot of emotions run through us. This flow is nourishing because they connect us to what is happening in life. We try to control them, but they are what they are. If we handled emotions as easily as children do, we would be happier. But many of us don’t.

Holding on to sadness and loneliness, in order to keep our loved ones in our lives, prevents new love from coming in.

While holding on to our sorrow shows our devotion to our loved ones, it’s something that I don’t think they would want us to do forever. Their love will always be part of us. We will not forget them. Ever. We will always honor their place in our lives. But at some point we also need to honor ourselves, and do what we need to be happy again.

Our challenge in grief is the same challenge that we’ve always had. Now it’s not an option. We need to find a balance every day, and let our hearts feel whatever they feel. We need to celebrate all that is good and noble, and mourn with all who are suffering.

Grief is a head, body, and heart experience. We can’t neglect any of them.

Zorba the Greek, who knew great suffering, thought it was a sin against God not to enjoy the good things of life.

Weep and laugh. Mourn and dance. Every day.

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