I can hardly believe it, but it’s been over a year since I’ve posted here about this journey of grieving. Indeed, I’ve been circling this writing since May. Touch in and go. Sometimes good advise for strong feelings, touch in and go.
On June 24th, it was four and half years since Allan died. This time of grieving has begun the shuttling back and forth, weaving living in grief and living with grief into the fabric of my being. Alongside every activity from washing the dishes to writing these words, I am conscious of the presence of Allan’s absence, and the place in my heart where it rests. Aware of each hard won breath among others, each making it through the day to crawl into my bed at night. The beads of days move through my fingers as I pray, murmuring the words, trying to murmur my life back into a life, particular to me and what She asks me to do, feel, engage in now on this arc of the descent.
While I write, two ten year old girls, my great niece and a friend, stand in the sunny driveway below my window practicing a character who with astonishment says, “Goddamn!” One husky voice, “Goddamn,” one flutey “Goddamn,” float up to my window and, despite their choice of word, I smile, remembering how delicious it was to say forbidden words when I was their age. I remember leaning out of my bedroom window with a friend, singing to my older brother who was laboring over a pile of mulch…you’re in the army now, you’re not behind a plow, you son of a bitch, you’re digging a ditch.. Oh.the thrill. Which calls me to the excitement of a young feminist reclaiming forbidden words, made obscene and denigrating. Witch, bitch, cunt, even vagina was shocking, not “down there,” each utterance a surge of daring to break norms. A reclamation of language, body and self determination.
I’m still at it I guess. Though I can’t say the thrill is there in this speaking of forbidden things. In reclaiming the dignity of grieving.
The litany of greeting a grieving woman: “How are you?” (Terrified.) “You look great, how are you doing?” (Scoured. Broken hearted. Hanging in. It’s a hard day, it’s an anniversary, I miss him so, I ache, I am sorrowing.) “How are you doing these days?” (Drowning, surfacing, going along. Dead. I want to put ashes on my face, or wear a black armband.) And “How are you now?” (Living alongside grief, a hair’s breadth from the underworld. Trying to love her, the one who wakes shattered. In despair.) And then this: “It seems like you’re returning to us.” (Who is the you exactly? Yes, it seem I am and I want to die.)
The questions come from love and I welcome them. And I also know some of them are lit with the hope that I’ll somehow become my old self. For the most part, I have answered them honestly which can be disconcerting. One doesn’t recover, or mend from grief. There is no fix. There is only learning to carry the burden bundle alongside the blessing bundle.
To die, to sorrow, to lament, to speak of scouring pain, to wail are not obscenities. But we have a tacit social agreement – we do not lament or keen openly, because living these things bring us to the edge of our terror of pain, our dread of loss, the implacable truth that everything we love will die, decay, crumble. No bargains, no deals. Acknowledging this challenges us to be open to fierce love, and fierce grief.
To deny death, to repress grief is to deny life. Love. Soul. Even though deep grief will destroy us, completely and painfully rearrange our lives both inner and outer. The depth of our grief is the depth of our willingness to love. Yet, if we don’t honor our mourning, our refusal will kill us, is killing us. Grief festers, decaying spirit, the ability to love, to commit, to let the world in, to cherish.
What a form of insanity. Killing is everywhere from the virtual to the streets to war. Yet, we will cross the street to avoid encountering someone in sorrow. How has it come to be that we don’t know how to meet what we have carried inside us since our birth?
What is it like now, this realm of grieving? Sorrow walks with me, this faithful companion and often, but not as often, I become her. A scent, the stars, the full summer moon, a breeze slipping through the window on a particular kind of day reaches right into memories waiting to be chosen. A shared bed, the first kiss, our first spring in this house, the smell of fresh pine flooring, the spring violets both Allan and I love. A slip of music and he is at the piano while I make my dinner. When the Chickadee calls and the Thrush trills its downward spiral. I am a well-loved woman, for whom memories must suffice. Oh these conjured erotic, tender, and companionable memories.
I was the woman who anticipated life, each day, wondering what the fresh morning would bring. Something juicy, interesting? I waited for openings to magically arrive, even if they were the most private of revelations. I seemed to make life then, and now it seems life makes me. It always did.
I wait for the Dark Holy Mother to give me guidance. How will she use me now? I live a more interior life. A life of seeking the mystical. The invisible in the silence. This interiority is one of hearing one’s breath, of sensation, of silence and feeling. Of candle light flickering off the cave walls of my heart. A personal, goalless intimacy with the marrow of me – She who I cannot name. No roles, no goals, no aspirations but to go in so deeply that I experience the vast realm of Spirit while my feet are planted on this Holy earth.
Grief has changed me. Revealed me. Just as Allan’s abiding love changed and revealed me. I live closer to the bone, with less urgency, not without anguish for our world and my loss, yet with love.
And most importantly, there is this – it is now, in looking back that I catch the glimmer of the Holy workings in grief. The terrible and Holy aura of undoing, stripping down to the bones of meaning, of love. It is extraordinarily painful. The Holy isn’t romantic or pure, but opens us to feeling more, deeper, wider. It asks us to sense the presence of that which we cannot see. Grief fiercely and tenderly burnishes the broken heart, casting light onto what is essential for a whole life.
Rabia, an 8th century Sufi mystic, in answer to why she is sorrowing said, “because I am eating the bread of this world while doing the work of that world.” Her words quicken my heart, these plaintive words. I am here in this world while Allan’s death has brought me to the edge of the so close and so far away “that world”. The world that grief often takes us to the very edge of, opens us to the possibility of, while we must live and love and eat the bread of this world.
Ultimately there is no here or there and perhaps Rabia’s wandering while singing the eternal song of Sorrowing is her plea that we rejoin the two in a world that has cleaved heaven and earth. Cleaved Spirit and matter. Cleaved grief and love.
Healing that deep severing, rejoining heaven and earth, is the work of the Holy.