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.

If you would like to be notified whenever I post something new, please enter your email here.

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 torn my life apart, I noticed that Rainer Maria Rilke and Washington Irving had different opinions.

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.”

Irving takes a different stance, feeling that we already try to put every sorrow behind us as quickly as we can. Except one—the sorrow that we rightly have over the death of someone we love: “this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude.” 

Then there’s Proust and his talk of healing. Who’s right? 

All of them are partially right and partially wrong, at least in my experience. I love Rilke for the mystery and the challenge of his words, and I appreciate his focus on living in the present, which I neglected to do quite often before Ev died. But he is too utilitarian in saying that what is past is past, so let it go and focus only on today, as if memories and grief had no value. I also don’t like the brooding of Irving because this suggests that we should stew in our emotions. 

As for Proust, if what he said is applied to grief, then it’s wrong. Grief is not a wound that needs to be healed. Grief is also not an illness like the cold or flu that we have to put up with until it goes away on its own, because it won’t. We need to deal with our grief if we are going to move on with our lives. We need to let ourselves feel our emotions, and feel them for as long as they last, and then let them go when we’re ready. We don’t need to incubate them, nor should we push them away. 

The sad, yet wonderful thing about grief is that it is never going to go away. Bear with me on this for a moment. I hear you mumbling.

Grief is tied to our love for our spouse, child, parent, or friend. We don’t ever want to forget how they rescued, nurtured, challenged, frustrated, and invigorated us, and we don’t want to forget how deeply we loved them. The only way that grief will disappear is for us to forget them, and this we don’t want to do. Grief binds us to the people we loved.

Another amazingly wonderful thing is that because we were so closely connected to someone who died, and still are, although in a different way, we are now connected to others in a new way. We need them to help us stay alive, and we need them to walk with us back to the land of the living. We are also more understanding of their suffering.

“All people are broken, in their need for one another.” Amy Fusselman

Although it is harder than we ever imagined, grief is not something to fear. Grief is the journey that each of us will one day take from a life that has blown up to a place where we can construct a new one. Grief is our companion as we hike over the mountains, through the desert, and along the rain-swept shore of the ocean. 

Listen to your grief. Neither run from it nor wallow.