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Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Landscape of Grief

"In my loved one's absence, life hangs upon me, and becomes a burden;
I am ten times undone, while hope, and fear, and grief, and rage and love rise up at once, and with variety of pain distract me." ~Joseph Addison

   Grief is an alien landscape without map or sign post. Memories of Les and I and our life together appear as a mirage. The closer I stumble to them the quicker they dissipate and my heart cracks open even more and bleeds out on the ground. Sleep is a distant memory of a time when I woke each day and Les was beside me or somewhere on the boat waiting for me to kiss him hello. Life is colorless, sounds are muted, and music is tinny. I drink gallons of water each day to replenish the seemingly endless reservoir of tears that drain from me as I am suddenly attacked by fresh grief and wracked by it until it passes as quickly as it arrived. Food which seems at first bite to taste good, does not agree with me and my gut churns and works endlessly. 
   Time spent with loved ones feels like tiny islands of respite in a tempest tossed ocean. I am tired of this journey, sick of myself, and I miss the boat so much I ache. I needed to make this trip back to our American family but now I am anxious to be home again. I cannot settle anywhere for long without grief finding me again, and of course I have no control over this journey. I don't do well with things, people or situations that make me feel out of control of myself. Les understood this about me. He was my touchstone for more than just Britain; I find he was the touchstone of my life.
   I post this to share my experience and to get these huge, overwhelming feelings out of my little body. It is not necessary to comment. Just know that right now, this is my journey, so please don't expect me to be fun and scintillating company or to sit and listen to the fabulous details of your life with your loved one who is still alive while mine is dead. It might be selfish but I simply cannot entertain it or anyone right now. I am not good company...I am lost in the landscape of grief. 

The following is an excerpt from the blog of Buddhist follower Roshi Joan Halifax:

   The ultimate relationship we can have is with someone who is dying. Here we are often brought to grief, whether we know it or not. Grief can seem like an unbearable experience. But for those of us who have entered the broken world of loss and sorrow, we realize that in the fractured landscape of grief we can find the pieces of our life that we ourselves have forgotten.
Grief may push us into the hard question of Why? Why do I have to suffer like this? Why can’t I get over it? Why did this one have to die? Why... . In the tangled web of “Why,” we cannot find the reasons or words to make sense of our sadness.
   Dying people also can grieve before they die. They can grieve in anticipation of their death for all they will seem to lose and what they have lost by being ill. Caregivers will grieve before those they care for have died. They are often saddened by the loss of freedom and options of those that are ill and the knowledge that death will rob them of one more relationship. Those that have been left behind by the dying are often broken apart by the knowledge that they cannot bring back that which has been lost. The irrevocability of it all often leaves them helpless and sad. And then there is the taste of grief in Western culture which is conditioned to possess and not let go.
   We all face loss, and perhaps can accept it as a gift, albeit for most us, a terrible one. Maybe we can let loss work us. To deny grief is to rob ourselves of the heavy stones that will eventually be the ballast for the two great accumulations of wisdom and compassion. Grief is often not addressed in contemporary Buddhism. Perhaps it is looked on as a weakness of character or as a failure of practice. But from the point of view of this practitioner, it is a vital part of our very human life, an experience that can open compassion, and an important phase of maturation, giving our lives and practice depth and humility.
   To begin, it is important for us to remember that the experience of being with dying for many does not stop at the moment of death. As a caregiver of a dying person or family member who has been at the death of a relative, we may attend the body after death and offer our presence to the community as they and we grieve. When the details of dying and death are settled, then what arises from the depths of the human heart is the many expressions of sorrow when the presence of loss is finally give the room to be seen and felt.
   Sometimes grieving lasts not for weeks or months but for years. Frequently the reason why grief is not resolved is that it has not been sufficiently attended to just after the loss of a loved one. Family and friends of the deceased can become consumed by the busyness of the business that happens right after someone dies.
   This is one of the great problems that we face in the Western way of dying, that business is so much a part of the experience of dying and death. Survivors often face a complex situation on the material level in the after-death phase. They find themselves looking for a funeral home, letting friends and family know that a death has happened, and creating a funeral service. Unraveling health insurance, taxes, and the last will and testament also take time and energy at this stage. Later there is cleaning up, dividing and giving away the deceased’s property, and other seemingly endless chores of closure. Resorting to the business of death can be a way for survivors to avoid the depth of their own loss.
   Like dying, grieving has its phases, and it is important to pass through them.
   Similar to the phases of dying, grief can be characterized by numbness and denial, anger, great sorrow, depression, despair and confusion. Finally, there can be acceptance and even transcendence as sorrow has opened the door of appreciation and compassion. These phases are similar to those experienced in a rite of passage: separation, transition, return.

   Grief can also arise as a person is dying. Family and friends as well as the one who is dying can experience what is called “anticipatory grief,” the bones of loss already showing. Working with that grief is an important part of what one can do in the care of the dying. In fact, most caregivers have to cross and recross this territory of grief in being with living and dying many times in the course of just one person dying.
   When my mother died, I received one of the best teachings of my life on grief. I realized that I only had one chance to grieve her. As a Buddhist, I felt I had a kind of choice. On the one hand, I could be a so-called “good Buddhist” and accept death and let go of my mother with great dignity. The other alternative was to scour my heart out with sorrow. I chose to scour. Shortly after her death, I went to the desert with photos of her and several letters she had written my father after I was born. Settling under a rocky ledge, I sunk back into shadows of sorrow. When your mother dies, so does the womb that gave birth to you. I felt that my back was uncovered as I pressed it into cold rock.
   Later, I was to walk the Himalayas with a friend who had recently lost his mother. The fall rains washed down the mountains and down our wet faces. In Kathmandu, lamas offered a Tibetan Xithro ceremony for her. They instructed me not to cry but to let her be undisturbed by grief. By this time, I was ready to hear their words. The experience was humbling for me. And when I finally got to the bottom of it, I found that my mother had become an ancestor. As I let her go, she became a healthy part of me.
   C.S. Lewis in his A Grief Observed reveals that “No one ever told me that grief was so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.” Grief can call us into an experience of raw immediacy that is often devastating. Grieving, we can learn that suffering is not transformed by someone telling us how to do it. We have to do the work ourselves. (The Buddha, Roshi Joan Halifax; accessed online, 03/23/2017).


Antinady said...

Just hugs - we love you xxxx

Tina & Andy xxxx

Unknown said...

☆ missing you like a lost limb☆

Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

Holding you in our hearts, Jaq darling. Mxxoo

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs