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.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Putting Grief on the Page

             (photo of the massive roots of a sequoia tree that fell over)

The death of someone we dearly loved tosses us into a hellish pit of broken things, and grief is the journey through that place and back up. Here I’m imaging Dante’s portrayal.

With the death, every negative emotion there is floods over us – guilt, shame, anger, despair, depression, doubt, and on and on.

How deeply we descend depends on how honestly we want to face reality. When death hits, we drop to the bottom of the pit. Or what we think is the bottom, because as the days, weeks, and months go on, we realize the extent of all we’ve lost and we drop further down.
Sometimes there are aspects of the death that are too hard to face, and we don’t let ourselves go there. This may be something like reliving the moments of watching our loved one die. Or we think of something that we could have done, if we had known they were in danger, which might have kept them alive. This thought twists a sharp knife because there is absolutely nothing we can do about this, and we have to live with it for the rest of our lives. So we look away and try not to deal with it. One day we will, but not today.

The circle of Dante’s hell that I descended to concerns sharing my emotions. It’s something that Ev worked hard with me on because my slowness in sharing threatened to pull our marriage apart. Even if this is a common male malady, the sharing of emotions is what makes a relationship work.

That it took the death of the one I loved most in the world to break down this blockade, brings me shame, sadness, and regret. The circle I will not cross is asking myself if she would be alive today if I had been able to share more.

I did not share my feelings easily; I’ve gotten better. Often it took me a long time to discern which specific emotion was involved. But I have found a community with others who grieve, and their openness and honesty is drawing my emotions out. Everything I share with them is heard and accepted. No judgment. Gates do not close when hard things are spoken. They open. Others share similar experiences and I know that I’m not a freak. There is affirmation and encouragement for me to probe deeper into my experiences.

Getting Visual

Dante’s images of descending through the levels of Hell are vivid and work for me when dealing with grief. I also like the images of hiking through a wilderness of mountains and forests, or trekking across a desert. You can also visualize grief as the steps or stages that Kubler-Ross set out. These were first taken as linear, progressing from one step to the next. Later Kubler-Ross clarified that these were only common steps of the journey. We hit them in no particular order, some several times, while other steps we may never touch at all.

You can also visualize grief as peeling away the layers of an onion to get to the center, or imagine that the stages of Kubler-Ross are five overlapping circles. When you’re dealing with one circle, something from another circle will often be involved.

Or, if you like physics, imagine the universe as a flat plane. But when you walk off the far edge of one side, you show up on the near edge behind you, because the universe bends and its corners touch. Just like in grief. I learned this physics lesson from Homer Simpson on a show that depicts the illogical capriciousness of life and death so well.

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  1. Oh no..there is a place deeper? Hell?

    1. Maybe the place where we are stuck alone with ourselves, unable to forgive for not doing what we did not know to do.