Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Good Grief

We're surrounded by death. It's on the news every few minutes. It's so widespread and pervasive that we've even become desensitized to it. Look at the gun deaths out there on our streets every single day. We watch and we slowly turn the tv stations to sports, Netflix, or cooking shows. We pull up Facebook, register our sadness online, and scroll on.

The pain and suffering of those immersed in death feels unbearable and seems impossible to contain. So we let it slip by. Forget Andy Warhol's prediction that we'll each have our 15 minutes of fame. I think today we spend 15 minutes in grief before it's time to turn our attention to the next obsession, our celebrity-of-the-hour of our psychological Id.

We genuflect towards the plight of others and we move on. Is that resilience? Are we strong against what blights our souls? When we turn away from our emotional distress towards something more "productive"?

Or is that denial? Where we turn our backs on the fearful and look instead to alternative realities? When we fill our minds and lips with anything and everything but that which causes us such heartache?
Novodevichy Cemetery & Convent
Moscow, Russia, June 2012

Last year, we lost Stephen's gregarious brother Tim. He left us in a way that created enormous emotional upheaval. I last saw him 9 days before our wedding. He passed away one week exactly before we walked down the aisle at All Saints Pasadena. Our celebration, something we dreamed about because we never thought it could be possible, was forever tainted by the painful departure of someone we expected to be there in the pews with us. We wore buttons with his face to remember him, so he's in all our wedding photos, but it wasn't the same as having him laugh with us, sing with us, sigh with us.

The morning after the wedding, hours after our celebration ended, we collected the reception flower arrangements and brought them to Tim's memorial.

Life is like that. Grief works on us at times we can't control. Death has no on-off switch.

Then last week, we lost Stephen's Uncle Dave. His passing was quick, and his pain didn't get drawn out over months. But it also means that the opportunities to say goodbye weren't there either. Sure, we had a hilarious time filled with family, stories, and games while camping at Yosemite a couple months ago in August. So we at least saw him a few times since the wedding. But many of the family didn't get a chance to say a proper goodbye. The grief sits heavily when you can't find closure.

Grief sometimes smacks you like a sucker punch to the gut when you're looking the other way. You don't expect exactly when it hits, you're not sure how it will feel, you often are bewildered at the pain. It's not fun. I've never enjoyed it and don't enjoy watching others as they cope with it.

But I stand there with them, together, holding hands, holding heads, holding hearts, so that we can cope without feeling alone. No, I don't enjoy it when others grieve, but grieve they must.

I wish them a good grief.

Not a good grief like Charlie Brown often lamented. Not an exhortation of frustration of something that passes quickly. But a heartfelt, purging, cathartic grief that has no time limit and has no agenda. With a pain that brings us intimately in touch with the billions of people who came before us and will come after us.

For it's in feeling that pain that we reconnect with our humanity, the same humanity that we so fleetingly ignore or pass by because we have no time. Love and loss are time-churning, time-consuming, clock burners. There's no rush and yet the intensity sometimes makes us want to push ahead faster. We want to fall in love faster. We want to cope with loss faster.

And like love, loss cannot be rushed. Our souls are pruned, our hearts bandaged, our psyches mended. The vacuum created by the change may be enormous and may be miniscule, but that gap exists nonetheless.

How quickly we lament that gap. We cut back our rose bushes and see the barren twigs, urging new buds to appear. But life doesn't work that quickly. God not through with us in the timeframe we want. And we can't ignore forever the need to prune back that which is no longer alive in the garden of our lives.

I sometimes wish that my garden were nothing but succulents. They're hardy. They don't need pruning. They just grow. But it's a false expectation. Even cactus plants need pruning.... eventually. It just takes a lot longer to get there. No, the only thing that doesn't have a rejuvenating process are inanimate objects. Stones. Bricks. Pebbles.

They don't die back.

There's no pain of loss that accompanies life.

And there's no chance for life made new.

Amidst the pain of losing someone swirls the often unstated fear, the dread of facing our mortality. As we watch others move away from us to worlds we do not grasp or understand, we can't help but wonder at our own departure. Will we suffer? Will we have a chance to say goodbye?

Let me share with you some words from Mark Nepo. These are words that he writes out of his terror from his life threatening health conditions. But it strikes me as similar in feelings to how many cope with grief.
During this time, I was unable to find my bearings, had no sense of center, and was unsure about everything. But in the center of my terror, there was a small voice stirring, emanating, and building from under all my trouble. It didn't speak in words, and I was unaccustomed to listing for it or to it. I know now it came from the core of all life and all time and began to assert itself through the bottom of my personality, the way sunlight passes through a crack in a barn. This was my first feeling of the touchstone of grace that would grow and lessen my terror over time.
Mark Nepo, Inside the Miracle
Grief may not be what we seek but we still need it to get past loss. I don't wish you to cry over death very often in your life, but when you do find yourself in a time of grief, I pray that you let the process work in you. Let the pruning be a productive one, creating space in your heart, so that life and be fruitful once more, basking in the sunlight that you've allowed into your core.

May your pain be a good grief.

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