Muse: to reflect, contemplate, to
meditate in silence on some subject.
“Anytime you push something away it’s still there.”
Grief is one of those things we want to push away. Yet she remains no matter how hard we push. And most times when we try to push her away she pushes back and then seems to loom larger and last longer. I often wonder where we think our pain goes when we try to reject it or ignore it.
Grief is asking to be allowed the same opportunity as joy or excitement or frustration or anger—the opportunity to be felt and expressed.
Grief will speak no matter what so rather than forcing her to yell to get our attention maybe we should try inviting her in and listen to what she has to say. I’m pretty sure she has something to teach us.
May we all be open to learning.
“Sometimes grief brings a deeper wisdom
than the rest of the world can grasp.”
The Wisdom of Grief
Grief is a secret teacher who has been around since the beginning of time. She is our common ground as we will all experience grief in one form or another in this life.
For me, grief has worn many faces and one of these is the face of a wise old woman who has many tales to tell and much wisdom to share if we choose to listen. She is always with us but tends to fade into the background of our lives until she is needed. At the first sign of loss, she steps forward as she reaches out her hands to try and catch the fragments of our hearts as they begin to break. It is in the gathering of these fragments where she begins to share her wisdom with us that will ultimately help us to heal.
If we listen carefully these are a few of the things we may learn.
Pain is a paradox. There is no getting around grief or avoiding grief. “The only way out is through” (Frost 1915). Grief knows that this seems like a bit of a conundrum since most of us are taught to avoid pain at all costs to protect ourselves. I definitely learned to seek pleasure and avoid pain which gave me the message that all pain was harmful. However, when I faced the pain of my loss with vulnerability, compassion and a bit of courage I learned that grief alters us. I had to shed my old skin, my old way of being in the world. The armor surrounding my heart began to fall away and the clouds covering my eyes started to lift. Grief transformed me into a more wholehearted being. I feel like I am kinder, more understanding and live from a deeper, more heartfelt place. My heart has become more tender and has grown larger to hold even more including the pain of the loss of my son.
Allow what is. In my early days with Grief, I struggled with this new life that I was being asked to live. I wanted my old life back. I begged, I pleaded, I bargained, I wailed, I resisted in every way imaginable until I was exhausted. When I finally figured out I was not going to get my way I surrendered to what was. Grief taught me that surrender is not giving up but it is allowing what is so I could learn to live again. Grief helped me understand that sometimes life just happens. It isn’t that we did anything wrong or that we are being punished or that there is a reason why. This is not the life I wanted or that I had planned but I learned that “you must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you” (Campbell 1988). This is the life that was now waiting for me and I had to learn how to live it so I could discover how to carry my son’s light forward with me in this unplanned life.
Tears are healing. Grief shows us the healing power of tears. Everything that grows needs water and it is my tears that have nurtured my growth and my healing. I learned that tears of grief are different from other types of tears. The tears of grief contain hormones that help to calm our nervous system so that our hearts can begin to mend. Grief also showed me how some of the old beliefs our culture has about tears and about crying are obsolete. Many times we judge tears as a sign of weakness but because of Grief, I have come to know that it takes great strength and courage to be vulnerable enough to let tears heal us, our own as well as others. I now see tears as a built-in healing mechanism that we shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to use.
Grief is meant to slow us down. Grief showed me that healing takes time—usually a lifetime because we never “get over” loss we go through it. Grief asks us to slow down as loss can be disorienting. Grief knows that ours is a fast-paced world and that there can be a lot of pressure from those around us to hurry up and feel better, to “move on.” It is the weight of Grief that held me in place so I could turn inward to explore this unfamiliar territory and discover who I was and who I would become because of this loss.
Grief makes us vulnerable.
Vulnerability comes from a Latin word meaning wound. Loss wounds us and makes us vulnerable. Grief brought my vulnerability out of hiding and removed all of my masks. I was wounded and raw. There was no way to pretend that I was okay. Grief taught me that vulnerability must be respected and encouraged me to choose wisely who I would allow into my vulnerable world because not everyone could meet me in this tender place. Being vulnerable has allowed me to heal as I exposed my wounds to the light and care of others instead of letting them fester alone in the darkness.
Grief as a window of opportunity. In our lifetime we will have many opportunities to get to know Grief. She knows she is not a welcome guest but hopes that we will take some time to get to know her and learn from her uninvited presence. Grief asks that we allow ourselves to feel and express all that she may bring with her when she comes to visit.
Grief knows that some of the wisdom that she shares with us cannot be explained in words. It is the unspoken knowledge that we carry in our hearts that will continue to guide us each and every day. On our journey with Grief she also helps us put the fragments of our broken hearts back together. She helps us arrange and rearrange the pieces knowing they fit together differently than they used to. She shows us that even though our heart is somewhat misshapen it has grown larger to hold even more. I guess she is what some may call a “master cardiologist.”
And so my old friend Grief
drops in to say “Hello.”
Sometimes she enters through
the door of my memory.
I’ll hear a song or
smell a fragrance.
I’ll look at a picture
and remember how it used to be.
And sometimes Grief
sneaks up on me.
It’s as though the ones
we love are determined
not to be forgotten.
Grief has taught me
that if I try to deny
the reality of loss,
I end up having to deny
And my old friend Grief
has even taught me that
I can survive great loss.
The Written Word
There are many ways to express our grief and putting our thoughts, feelings, and ideas on paper can be a very healing process. The suggested prompts here can be done one time or multiple times. I’ve learned it helps to set a timer for 10-15 minutes and keep your pen moving for the entire time. I encourage using pen and paper rather than a keyboard as there is a hand/heart connection when writing longhand. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar, just write. When the timer goes off you stop writing even if you are in mid-sentence. Don’t reread your work at this time. Just set it aside for a couple of weeks and then go back and see what your words may have to say to you.
(If you choose to use a keyboard the same instructions apply).
Try this writing prompt:
What is some of the wisdom that grief has shared with you?
I will list some books, articles, poems, movies, or other resources that I as well as others have found helpful on this grief journey. I hope these resources may deepen your understanding of grief, maybe bring you some sense of comfort, and help you to feel less alone in your grief.