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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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

We Are Rivers in Spring

Signs of recovery, or are we just thawing?

When we are stuck smack dap in the midst of grief’s armpit, it’s hard to tell if we’re making any progress or if we’re slowly slipping back into the yak morass. There is so much movement backward, spinning in circles, and being yanked off on detours that we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. The parade of Life is passing us by and we’re waiting for an unscheduled bus to appear and pick us up.

Grief is not a straight-line experience where we go in orderly fashion from point A to B and on to Z, arriving sometime later in The Land of Complete and Total Bliss Happiness. Grief is a dark, gnarly labyrinth with massive dead ends and turnings back, and it’s hard to keep track of what direction we’re headed.
In the past I’ve written about several ways that grief is like a river. Or we are like the river. Maybe both. Take your pick. This is another one.

One morning in spring (this is a true story), high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I was standing on a bank of the Merced River in Yosemite trying to tell if the water was rising. This was six weeks after my wife died. While it was still early in the season, I knew it was warm enough during the day for some snow to begin melting in the highlands. That water would trickle into creeks and feed the Merced River that was flowing past me. But had the process actually begun?

Looking at the river as a whole, I couldn’t tell. It looked like it did last evening when I was sitting here watching the bright yellow and orange colors of the setting sun dissipate into gray nothingness, feeling that my life was, for all the realistic purposes that I could see, over. Today, staring at the edge of the water on a flat stretch of beach, also told me nothing. I took a twig and stuck it in the sand right at the edge and waited. In five minutes the water had moved an inch beyond the stick. The river was growing.

Grief moves like that.

As we come out of our frozen daze, we become aware of everything and everyone we’ve lost, but life also begins tugging on our sleeve, wanting us to move on, whether we’re ready to or not.

Each night when the sun sets, the air cools, the melting stops, and the water level in the river goes down. When the sun rises, the melting begins again. As the hours of daylight get longer and the sun shines warmer, the amount of melting snow increases. The river will eventually flood and nourish the meadows where seeds of new life have been waiting patiently.

Grief is like that, too.

In time, we will hold grief in one hand and compassion in the other. We will hold despair and laughter. We will grab sorrow by the arm and we will dance with it.

It’s not a matter of HOW we are able to do this, holding two opposites at the same time. It’s not even why we were not AWARE of this reality before, that life is always paired with death, although that’s a really good question.

It’s that we MUST dance in order to balance our grief, otherwise we succumb to death.

One Breath Out, my essay on grief, breathing, Pema Chodron, and Tonglen meditation has been published by The Manifest Station.


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