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, October 22, 2015

Comfort In a Time of Grieving

(A version of this was first published by Refuge in Grief.)

There is little comfort when we’re deep in grief. When we’re done actively grieving, it’s different. But not completely, and it comes so slowly.

It will never be all right with me that Evelyn suffered for years with physical aches and pains, worked hard to recover and was almost back to full health when she died of an unknown heart problem. She was only in her forties. I was bitter about that then, and I’m bitter about that now.

I accept the reality of death. But it rubs me the wrong way when anyone dies early, especially teenagers and infants. It’s also not all right that innocent people suffer, or that good people have horrible illnesses and die, or that people die because of someone else’s stupidity, anger, or inattention.

While I believe there is some form of afterlife/heaven, the exact nature of this reality is fluid in my imagination. Assurances that Evelyn is there have come from a few unexplainable encounters, and from a psychic who told a friend that Ev was amazed at where she was. So she’s good, and I find comfort in this.

What does my head say about comfort? A number of words are used interchangeably — relief, assurance, solace.

Relief is when I’m standing outside and the wind stops blowing on a cold day; it’s still cold. Assurance is saying that after this cold winter, spring will come, and that if I hold on, I will experience the warmth of summer. It doesn’t change my present reality, but it gives me hope. Solace is coming out of the cold for a moment. Comfort is reaching a place of peace, of acceptance.

There are also active forms of the word — comforting, comforts, comforted, comfortable.

When I put on a jacket, the jacket is comforting because it is warm and I am no longer cold. I also have a red alabaster heart that I’ve had since Evelyn died, and this comforts me. When people come, listen to me share, and help with chores, I am comforted by them. Or when we walk together in nature after a week inside, I am comfortable enjoying the physical pleasures of fresh air and the warmth of the sun, although there is some guilt because I am enjoying something that Ev no longer can. But when people leave and I go back inside, grief is still waiting for me.

Now set everything I just said to the side. Let’s look at the larger context. 

Christianity speaks of believing that we are in God’s hands, and that whatever happens is part of God’s plan, so we should not try to find the reasons for events that we don’t agree with or understand. Yet C.S. Lewis and John Donne, the great 13th century Anglican poet/priest, felt it was proper for Christians to both celebrate their loved ones arrival in heaven, and grieve their loss on earth.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist, said that we are not born and we do not die. We move in and out of this life. Buddhism believes there is much suffering in this world, and the way to deal with this is through non-attachment. Love everyone and everything, but do not cling to them. This is hard to do when someone you love dearly dies.

Sufi Islam says that heaven can exist in this world when we love and serve one another, helping people grow in their spiritual lives.

The early Celtic people believed that each life would have bowls of sorrow as well as platters of joy, and we needed to eat from both.

Look around your neighborhood. Someone is always dying and someone is always being born. People are suffering from accidents, illnesses and chronic diseases. A lot of people will die before we think it’s time, and we will think that their deaths are wrong and unfair.

And yet, there are acts of kindness we can do for ourselves when death comes near, and coats of compassion we can put over the shoulders of others to keep them warm.

Where I have found the greatest comfort is in the community of those who grieve, among those who support and take care of one another.

In the long run after a death, does everything work out for the better? Our loved ones are still dead. There is no comfort in this. Evelyn did not die so that something better could happen. She just died. The world is in a deficit now because of the loss of her compassion for the next forty years.

The bottom line is that I need to take care of what I can, and let everything else prosper, blow up, fall apart, or move along on its own. I am taking the risk of loving others again, and this is a positive development. Yet the bitterness of Ev’s death still burns, and part of me is still broken, not because of grief, but because of death.

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