Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Journey of Life, The Journey of Grief

Our friend Robin—who is walking a journey of crushing grief caused by the death of her son a little over a year ago—has posted a couple of entries about a conversation she had with a friend over breakfast recently. Wherein the friend seemed to communicate that Robin should be…somewhere else in her journey. Maybe having achieved more distance, more “closure;” thereby making it easier, perhaps, for her friends to begin to relate to her again.

Today, Robin mentioned that her friend had told her, “In the end, the only thing you can do is choose happiness.” Perhaps, if this friend has ever experienced a stunning, incapacitating grief, this is what she believes she did to put it behind her. Personally, I think it’s a flawed concept.

One does not choose happiness, any more than one chooses to grieve. Our emotional states are largely dictated by outside influences over which we have no control. If I witnessed a terrible accident in which hundreds of people died horribly before my eyes, could I then make everything all better by turning around, walking away and choosing to be happy? Hardly.

Still, I know, in my own journey with grief, there were times when I had to choose to step away from the sadness. If only for a few seconds, or a minute, or a couple of hours. At first, it’s almost impossible to do, because you feel the very act of pushing out of the sadness is a betrayal to the memory of the loved one you have lost; a discordant note in a life that now has to be lived without someone too important to lose; a futile exercise in sublimating a pain that will never go away. But, at some point, you realize that you have to walk out of the pain or be totally and forever consumed by it. You want to remember who you were, even though you know you will never be that person again.

And it sticks to you, that sadness...like a magnetic fog. You may not have a strong grasp on reality outside your grief, but you can be certain of this: that the sadness is always there, it will return and enfold you like a shroud. Days…months…decades after the loss, the sadness is there.

So, no…I’m not living in a place of acute grief any more. Not right now. However, I don’t expect that aspect of life to become anything but more familiar as I move into my own twilight years. I think it would be much harder to face if I hadn’t realized early on that you don’t get over grief. You don’t “recover” from it. Ever. You come to the understanding that the grief—the loss—is now a part of who you are. You embrace it; you pick it up, sling it over your back and keep walking.

In Robin’s post today, she contemplated the purpose of life. Is the purpose of life to be happy? Or is it, as an aspiring Presbyterian minister believes—to know and love God? What’s MY answer?

Certainly life isn’t all about being happy. The pursuit of “happiness” is an often selfish undertaking that can, as often as not, end in disaster, and inflict pain on others. To know and love God? Um…I don’t believe in “God,” at least, not in the sense in which that Power is described and worshipped in our current popular belief systems.

I look at life as a journey. From where and to what, I really have no idea. There is incredible beauty and nearly unendurable sadness to be experienced along the way. There is more love and wonder and worth around the next corner, as surely as there is another tragedy or horror waiting somewhere farther down the road. So you have to keep going. You have to…you have to…pick up the changes and the losses and the tears and the tatters and the heartbreak. Sling them over your back, and keep walking. To do otherwise would cheat yourself, and dishonor this incredible gift—and challenge—that we call “life.”


JACKIE said...

I'm also not sure that you can "choose" to be happy. You're right, life is a journey and everything that has happened to us is part of that journey. We're not the same people we would be if the sad/bad things hadn't happened as well as the experiences that we call good/happy.

And I don't believe it's my place to tell anyone where they should be in the grieving, getting over an illness, negative energy part of their lives. I haven't walked in there shoes. All I can do for a friend or relative is promise to call, offer a shoulder and keep my freakin' mouth shut if that's what it takes to be supportive.

alphawoman said...

From my own personal observations...My nana grieved for her first born, who died when he was approx. three, until the day she died at age 81. My SIL will never be the same after he 17 yr. old son died of a drug overdose. Both she and her husband "put a bottle to their heads". When my BIL passed last summer, she said, morbidly, loosing him was easier than loosing her son. I believe people try to be helpful but to truly be helpful, just listen and hold them.

Kathy said...

A beautifully written entry Lisa. Brings a few tears to my eyes. I used to tell my niece who was trying hard to get beyond her very rough childhood and teen years:

Put all of that in a suitcase and take it with you into adulthood, because you need all of it to know who you are. But you don't have to look at it every day.

Grief. Ah grief. How difficult it is to accept it and to live with it.