A man I loved recently died back in Maine. This man was a major part of my life and that of my kids, and he died way too young at 67. His death has impacted many, especially his daughters and family, and many friends across the country. It has been tragic and heartbreaking, and the closest death in my life so far.
The resulting grief has been deep, and penetrating. I’ve written about grief before, but from the outside. This is from the inside of me, a direct anguish that has hit me profoundly.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying,” explains the steps of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. This has not how my sorrow has gone, it has been way different.
I feel like I’m letting the grief work on me, just letting it come ... carried along by its current without knowing where it will lead. I’m allowing time and space for this to happen, seeing and feeling whatever presents itself. It all washes over me. Sometimes, there are joyous memories of good times together and the children are involved. Then, there are the visions of dead bodies and darkness and the inner movement of the heart. Visceral stuff. Then, there is sometimes a very deep sadness for all who are suffering with the loss of this beloved man.
And there are his visitations. He comes into my dreams doing this or that ... he appears in visions ... and in the songs of the house finch on a hot and windy day up in the aspen tree. What gifts these are.
There’s a hole. An emptiness I cannot fill with anything else; there are no replacements. Do we need these holes as sort of portals into the mystery? Joanna Macy says, “ ... the certainty of we know, fills us up. We see the necessity of not knowing. We must leave a space for the not-knowing. It’s a very ancient apprehension of reality.”
Sometimes, I feel this grief will not ever leave me. There will always be this place in my soul that will carry this beautiful man’s spirit. I hope so. The heartache comes through me, yet I sense it lives in me, and always will. It seems like grief is cumulative, and all that I’ve experienced in my life is within me. This is not necessarily difficult, I’m sort of loving it all, because it has become part of me, of my relationships and who I am in my life.
To deny our process around grieving, whatever it is and however it goes, is to rob ourselves of the wisdom and compassion we find in ourselves and in others. It seems to link me with others who grieve this man, and also with a universal empathy toward everyone who’s ever lost a loved one.
We had all better get used to swimming these deep waters of loss, for as we age it will be happening more and more. My Aunt Jean, who lived to 100, was always so saddened that all her friends had died before her and left her alone.
“Grief teaches us tenderness and patience with ourselves, and reminds us lovingly not to hold on too tightly. Impermanence is inescapable, we learn; no one and nothing escapes her touch.” – Joan Halifax
Peace to all who wander on this path.
Martha McClellan has lived in Durango since 1993 and has been an educator, consultant and writer. Reach her at [email protected]