Every Wednesday

Every other Wednesday, I will post a reflection on grief as I continue to explore its landscape and listen to your experiences. In the sharing of our stories with each other, we find encouragement and build a community of support and understanding.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Bitterness or Compassion

Bitterness is a bale of barbed wire. After someone we love dies, we wrap it around ourselves to protect us from ever being hurt again. Life can’t get in, but we also can’t get out. 

Bitterness has razor sharp edges. At a time when we aren’t able to feel anything else, we can feel this. Bitterness is different than sorrow. 

Bitterness is sorrow covered with the jalapeno of anger and the habanero of rage.

We feel sorrow when a wife dies in her forties. We feel bitter when a child dies from a horrible disease that caused her intense pain. Mark Twain lost three of his four children during his life. Then his wife Livy died, and he became a bitter man. 

Bitterness is a defense mechanism. It’s a filter that colors how we view the rest of life, and it limits how much joy we let in.

We feel bitter if we thought life promised that if we worked hard, followed the rules, and were good to people, then we would live to a ripe old age with the person we loved. When this doesn’t happen, we feel bitter because we held up our end of the agreement. 

Can we be bitter in our own life and compassionate toward others?

It’s a continuum. As we forgive others, we move away from bitterness and move toward compassion, both for others and ourselves. I don’t think we can be happy again until we let go of most of our bitterness.  

When someone we love dies, we stand on the corner of Bitterness Boulevard and Compassion Avenue and have to decide which way we’re going to turn. 

Compassion for ourselves is hard to muster if we think there was something we could have done to keep our loved one alive. Kindness for ourselves, though, can be like being a pile of damp wood. We can’t start our own fire; we have to be kindled by the compassion of others. We need people to remind us that we are worthy of love.

Compassion is a warmth that surges through our body.

When people come and sit with us in grief, when they listen to us share, when they accept us in our brokenness, we feel the healing energy of compassion. Because of our suffering, our eyes open to the wounded in our city, to the suffering going on around the world, and to the abuse of animals, our cousins. 

Because we realize that society is indifferent to individual suffering, it’s crucial that individual people step up. Because people took time out of their lives to help us, our hearts, although still broken, open again to others.

Compassion is the balm that soothes our burned heart.

Bitterness is a one-way street that has a bakery with delicious smells coming out, but no empty parking spaces. Every time we pass by unable to stop, we become hungrier and more bitter. 

Compassion is when someone sees us driving around and pulls out of a space to let us pull in.

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