Reflections On Grief and Loss

Sometimes life isn’t what it appears to be.  Sometimes loss is actually gain.

When I was a newlywed, my father-in-law died unexpectedly.  With less than 2 months of marriage under my belt, I felt ill-prepared to play the mature role of wife to the aggrieved.

Husband and I were supposed to be figuring out little things like how to co-exist, compromise, and negotiate whether one should squeeze a toothpaste tube from the middle or roll it up from the bottom.  Instead, we were thrust into decisions and actions that catapulted us past the fun frivolity of young adulthood.

In hindsight, the events of that summer were serendipitous.  Being immersed in grief, Husband and I had no inclination to trifle with each other.  When peers voiced their stage-appropriate struggles and discoveries, I would listen with the ears of an outsider, unable to relate.  From my new perspective, there were much bigger things in life than, life.

The blessings amidst loss are difficult to see.  Even with an open heart and willing mind, clarity may never arrive.  The darkness surrounding grief is thick and impossible to penetrate with the naked eye.  If one has any hope of experiencing the full range of possibilites, one must abandon conventional thinking and principled resistance.

In situations such as school shootings, it’s tempting to stir the pot of grief with anger, regret, and demands for retribution.  We want someone to ‘pay’ for our loss.  When it hurts so badly that it’s too much to bear, we share the pain, hoping it will make us feel better.  And sometimes it does.  There’s no greater love than that from another human who can hold our grief, if even for a fleeting moment.

But healing and transformation will never arrive in the midst of hate.  We can’t hear the wisdom within whilst venom is spewing forth.  Anger is a catalyst to be sure.  It can be helpful to light a fire that will enlighten the world.  But true change needs a safe entry-point.  When our intent is to burn those from whom we need help in order to move mountains, we all lose.

It must follow, if one is to go on living after loss, that we pick up the pieces of a shattered delusion of order and justice and put it back together in a way that suits a new paradigm.  This is true no matter the circumstances of loss.  This is one of the gifts to be garnered.

During my recent experience with grief following the loss of Beagle’s 19 year old friend, I found myself privy to a fresh perspective of sorrow.  It was intense and heart-breaking, as one would expect, but it was also magnificent.

Beagle and company filled up an entire church pew, standing shoulder to shoulder in their dress clothes without space enough to slip a piece of paper between them.  Parents stood behind, watching their sons’ bodies tense and tremble, listening to tears flow, and observing, in warp speed, the transformation from boy to man.

These boys, the embodiment of healthful youth, processed through protocol and were received with enthusiasm by their friend’s family.  They toasted the boy who no one had ever seen in a bad mood. They poked fun at their late friend’s expense, just as they would have if he was there with them, solidifying his lasting place in the brotherhood.

The gifts of grieving unfolded with every ritualized, as well as every unscripted, step.  Never was the congruence of love so evident  as it was in this group coming together, supporting each other in grief the same way they bond with each other in celebration.

Life is never the same after we lose a fellow human.  Each puts a personal stamp on the world that cannot be replaced. And there’s no prescription for how to go on living.  But one thing is certain: allowing yourself to experience loss for all its potential will inevitably lead to grace.

Support For A Child In Grief

I didn’t need to answer the phone to know that something was wrong.  Teen sons, in my experience, don’t just call Mom out of the blue.  A trembling voice confirmed my fear – something terrible had happened.  Beagle’s good friend, one of his posse, has died.

I find myself telling the news to everyone I cross paths with – not for any hope of consolation, but rather to solidify the truth.  Repeating the words moves me toward acceptance.  Beagle doesn’t know why, but he’s doing the same thing.  He didn’t want to talk at length about the tragedy, he just wanted to tell me, then hang up the phone and tell the next person and the next, until he could believe what he was saying.

In the hierarchy of horribleness, the passing of a child trumps the list of losses that one could encounter in a lifetime.  Few things are more cruel and bewildering.  When a life is cut far too short, the facade of relative safety and structure that outlines our typical days explodes, leaving us exposed to the elements of reality.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Life does not belong to us.  If it did, we would get to decide when it ended.

I have been around this block before, of course, and I know my way through grief.  But Beagle does not.  He is barely a man-cub and not yet fully versed in love and loss.  The time has come for Husband and I to teach lessons we had hoped would not arise for many years.

We cannot spare our boy any pain.  We can only hold a space for it, allowing it to express itself in any of its wildly varying forms.  We begin to paint a picture of grief, leading by example with unrestrained tears, voiced regrets, and demonstrations of strength and support.

We show and tell Beagle that no matter how mature you become, you will struggle with death.  The very fact that you have dared to love and connect to others means that you will suffer loss.  Try not to hate love for loss.  Try not to hate life for death.  Keep your heart open.  Don’t construct walls where doors should be.  And promise me you won’t subscribe to outdated stereotypes of masculinity.  Real men DO cry.

Beagle, you were meant to cross paths with your friend who left so soon.  The chapter of time with him is done, but the story doesn’t end.  The two of you will eternally be connected.  You will remember him and integrate him into your future with stories and rituals.  You will find ways to honor him.  You will introduce him to people who will never meet him. 

Eventually, happiness will touch your sorrow.  You will smile when you think of your time together instead of feeling drawn into the pit of your belly.  Don’t rush the healing. And don’t prolong it for anyone else’s sake.  Let it evolve in it’s own time.  Trust your heart to guide you. 

We were all lucky to have known this sweet boy.  Thank you, Beagle, for bringing him into our lives.  Know that we are here for you, supporting you as you leave the innocence and carefreeness of your youth behind.  You are now part of a club that no one wants to belong to.  You are far from alone.

The Passing Of A Princess


I was 7 years old when I fell in love with the idea of a Princess.  Many years later I met a noble woman, known then as the Birthday Princess, who restored my faith in the fairytale of life.

We met during a time of personal emergence when each of us were fledging writers, sharing our identical secret desire to change the world with a book.  We were fast friends whose kinship sustained and nurtured an unexpected bond, despite the fact that we would never meet in person a second time.

Sacha was a natural cheerleader and coach, unwavering in her support of others.  She spread her special brand of magic like a farmer feeding her chickens – scattering goodness all over with abandon.  The only thing she asked in return was that you love your own self more; that you see in yourself the beauty and potential that she saw in you.

Sometimes in life, if we keep our eyes open, we stumble into people along the way that we don’t deserve.  They are the rare gems that enrich us and invite us to elevate our game. 

Sacha was one of those people whose light shown so bright, from a place of such sincerity and generosity, that one was instantly drawn into it.  My crass, inelegant self wondered how Sacha managed to be so filled with joy.  She was never careless with life or people or words.  She was intentional, tender, and bubbly.

When a royal presence like Sacha is taken suddenly from the world, the sweetness of life suffers a bitter blow. I will miss this friend with an unparalleled level of loss, for I am quite certain there isn’t another of her for me in the world.  But I am privileged and humbled to have been part of her fold.  For those left behind, a calling remains, a challenge really, to embody what we’ve learned from one who had mastered the art of love here on Earth.

I imagine Sacha slipping seamlessly into Heaven, taking her place amongst angels as if she belonged there all along.  No doubt she would be shocked to find herself there, but likely she is delighting in the magnificence that surrounds her and wondering how she can share it with others.

After I post this tribute, I will wait with hopeful expectation for her response.  She would write something poetic in the comments section about how my words danced off the page and filled her heart.  And I would believe her, soaking up the free praise given by my most ardent supporter. 

Eventually, it will hit me that I’ll never again hear her words of encouragement, unless, like a solid Sacha student, I learn to do this for myself.  How proud she would be of me for finding the courage to be without her.  She would tell me not to worry that I’m not there yet.  Just be gentle with yourself and celebrate every step toward reclaiming happiness.

Thank you, Sacha, for gracing this world, and my life, with the gift of you.

Deb

Love, Untethered by Death

grieving-parents-004A man lost his mother to illness and old age. He hated his mother. In childhood she criticized him relentlessly. In adulthood she pestered him mercilessly.

The man wished for his mother to be gone. As she became increasingly dependent, he became intolerant. ‘Why won’t she just die?’ he wondered aloud. Very soon after uttering the words, the man’s mother did die and regret descended upon him. For so long he suffered his mother’s life. Now he would suffer her passing.

Death was not the relief the man expected. It brought forth a jumble of buried emotion that washed over him like flood waters, upending previously conceived notions rooted in anger. Long-standing stories with deeply entrenched beliefs crumbled under the force, like houses and trees that have been knocked flat.

Where once the man saw his mother as a burden, he saw glimpses of blessing.
Where once she was a villain, he saw a martyr.

This confused the man. He wasn’t willing to admit to tenderness and softening toward his mother. Love, untethered in death, floated to the surface. Its appearance was frightening and overwhelming to the unsuspecting mind. The man didn’t want to look love in the eye, but it was there, staring him down, glaring at his ignorance, daring him to ignore it in favor of the need to hate, to be right, to hold onto grievance.

A thorn had been removed from the man’s life and he wanted – expected – relief. But the wound was raw and awash with the sting of struggle. He would disperse his struggle to anyone who would take the time to indulge his need to purge. His loved ones listened with patience and irritation, for they were the ones who had borne the brunt of the man’s conflicted relationship with his mother for years. They tried, as best they could, to follow this new storyline as it unfolded. But it was difficult to string it together. Only the man could do that in time.

The man’s anger, without it’s familiar target, was misdirected toward those who would help. The sadness, which he loathed, was drowned in his work. The wounded archetype of an orphaned child was used to his advantage.

Eventually, the man would spend down his negativity and allow love to work its miracles. Time would open the door for love to slip in and heal his pain, showing him that despite his failure to acknowledge it, love was present all along, in a place where he was certain it could never have existed.

Love, it turned out, was his for the keeping.  It would prove over and over that no matter what we cover it with, nothing can eclipse love’s power.  Especially not death.

hidden-love

 

Best Dog Ever

faveWhen I was a kid, someone told me that the rain meant God was crying.  Today, my inner child wants to believe that this is true – that it is raining because even God is sad that my beloved one-year-old puppy died.

It was a freak accident that caused the spinal cord injury – a quick twist of fate during a puppy playdate.  The vet assured us against regrets but we are reeling with hurt.  There is no explanation that will help us make sense of the pain in our hearts.

We held Oakley on a ‘Best Dog Ever’ pedestal.  He was our one-of-a-kind dog, aka mutt, unique and unrepeatable.  A friend described him as a bag of spare parts and we cherished that about Oakley.  Each of us loved him with abandon and he returned the affection without playing favorites.

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There is a secret that dog lovers know – such that it cannot be adequately explained to one who hasn’t experienced the unfettered loyalty and sincerity of a canine.  The secret is that dogs fill a need we didn’t know we had.  They reveal to us – an oft undeserving lot – the experience of unconditional love as only an unencumbered creature can.

I’ve read that dogs never lie about love.  They are honest with their emotions and far less confused than we humans about relationships.  This is why we are devastated when they leave us.  Having shared in this mutual exchange of magical affection, we can never fully reconcile the loss of it.  Dean Koontz said, “If you’ve had a wonderful dog, life without one is a life diminished.”

Oakley’s life was cut short in his people’s eyes.  We had hopes and expectations about a future with him.  In our minds, Oakley’s image was already painted onto the canvas of every child’s soccer game, every family party, and every first day of school photo.  How will we ever un-paint him?

Those who have healed from the loss of a dog will remind me that Oakley lives forever in my heart.  Someday, that reality will comfort me.  Someday, my hands will not ache for the feel of his fur; my ears will not notice the deafening silence created by the absence of paws running to greet me; and my mind will relinquish its relentless chatter about the unfairness of life. But right now, as I tumble through the stages of grief, my immense love for Oakley hurts because it has no tangible recipient.  It has only a memory of what it felt like to have him, and sadness that he is gone.

Rest in peace, my sweet friend. You will be missed.

oakley tree (2)

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