Thursday, February 23, 2012

Emily Dickinson Kick

I'm on a bit of a Emily Dickinson kick these days.  She is one of the few poets whose words I know by heart.  Today it's:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I can wade grief

I can wade Grief --
Whole Pools of it --
I'm used to that --
But the least push of Joy
Breaks up my feet --
And I tip -- drunken --
Let no Pebble -- smile --
'Twas the New Liquor --
That was all!

Power is only Pain --
Stranded, thro' Discipline,
Till Weights -- will hang --
Give Balm -- to Giants --
And they'll wilt, like Men --
Give Himmaleh --
They'll Carry -- Him!--Emily Dickinson

Monday, February 20, 2012

Saints and Grief

 When I was writing my book on Saints and Suffering last year, I didn't include a chapter on Grief. There were several reasons for that, but probably the main one was that I didn't realize just how much suffering there is involved in the grief process.  Now that I've been griefwalking throught my loss, I think I'd like to investigate how the saints dealt with and handled their grief

The one place I do talk about grief is in the chapter on St. Jane de Chantal.  In it, I wrote:

St. Jane de Chantal had more than her share (of suffering)
It began when her beloved husband, the Baron de Chantal, died from an accidental gunshot wound, leaving her a widow with three small children. Jane was inconsolable and despondent, falling into a deep, grief-fueled depression for at least four months. For various reasons, including protecting her children’s estate, Jane was forced to live with her father-in-law, a difficult and tyrannical man who made her life miserable. For seven long years, she lived in virtual servitude until finally, as her biographers say, her patience and virtue triumphed.
Yesterday I talked about how our culture expects us to be over and done with grief in a matter of days (preferably hours if not minutes), but that grief doesn't work that way.  I find it surprisingly comforting to realize that a saint was "inconsolable and despondent," even deeply depressed, after a death.

Because we are so loathe to let grief has its time, the depression that falls like a soggy wet tarp on life isn't something we are comfortable discussing.  "Get something to help!" is the well-meaning advice of friends.  What they really are saying is "Your depression is making me uncomfortable, so take something so that you act happier and that way I won't have to feel so uneasy when you burst into tears over a cup of tea."

Taking a drug to mask the feelings only means that the feelings are submerged, and submersion isn't the same as healing. Healing is a process...a process that takes time. If it took St. Jane four months to begin to come out of her grief depression and she was a saint, then it's okay for me (and for you) to take the time we need to experience our walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Moving On...or Grief is SO 12 Seconds Ago

Our society is very instant-oriented.  Movie stars separate and the tabloids have them "moving on" to their next relationship before the indentation from the wedding ring has time to disappear. The commerical for ATT&T captures it perfectly. "That is so 12 seconds ago!"

Grief, however, still responds to older, deeper rhythms. Rhythms that can't be forced into our Insta-Over-It mentality.  The stages of grief have to be processed in their own time, and that processing simply takes time.

For me, with my Mother, several of the stages were accomplished on the long journey.  I didn't deny her passing or bargain with God about it.  I was ready for the stage of sorrow and gradual acceptance before I got the actual phone call.

As I sit here on a Sunday afternoon, feeling sort of out touch and out of reality, I know that the grief I'm feeling comes from two sources.  First, the great sweeping waves that come when I think about Mother.  I surf them, feeling them rise and fall beneath my heart, taking my breath away as they crescendo.  

Then, there are other waves; short, harsh, choppy waves like the sea in a storm, pounding and battering against the shore of my being. These waves of grief come from the whole situation swirling around the friend who was arrested for a white collar crime.  (Since it isn't my story and since we are still innocent until proven guilty in this country, I choose not to disclose anything more about it here.) These waves of grief are on an entirely different schedule than those surround Mother.  They answer to the names of denial, bargaining, anger and fear.

When I am between waves, I think, "How odd to be caught in two different grief cycles at the same time."  Then a wave comes, be it sweeping or short, and I feel the ancient rhythms of pain take over.  There is no way out but through.

God grant that I have the strength to make it through two cycles simultaneously.