And, still you stand: An Ode to Grief

Loss hammered you incessantly. Grief hollowed you out until you were gasping for breath, empty and fully spent. Your heart was broken and battered into a heap of crumbled bits and pieces. And still, you stood.

Anguish carved you open in unexpected and totally disorienting ways. You lost your footing; you lost your way. Nothing made sense anymore. There were moments when thoughts of your own death seemed like a cool pillow on a sleepless night, blessed relief for the heated pain that endlessly coursed through you. And still, you stood.

You stayed alternating between almost-catatonic numbness and torturous, cycling agony. You kept inching your way through the thick, clinging muck of grief and memory, holding pictures and words and touch to your heart. Again and again, you relived the moments and slices of life you spent together. You were not going to forget a single nanosecond. Ever. Excruciating and tender and filled with an unspeakable sorrow, they remained your most precious — and, sometimes, were almost your complete undoing. And still, you stood.

Your will to carry on flickered like the sputtering end of a candle. You were done, so done. You tattooed your feet with the words so you would remember how to walk forward each day. You tattooed your arm so you might lift it again some day, in a distant future, a different reality.

You walked miles in and out of sleep. You scribbled and cut and pasted your life like puzzle pieces looking for a different outcome. You did anything to feel something different, something not so painful. You were bleeding tears. And yet, still you stood.

God was an anathema. Perhaps not permanently, but in the dark days of grief when it felt like a boa constrictor was squeezing the life out of your heart, nothing felt good or right or meaningful or symbolic. You were furious with God. This was not supposed to happen. You found yourself staring at a crevasse into which you might plunge. You clutched brown plastic bottles of pain pills and clear, slick glasses of drink, but there would never be enough to eradicate the pain you felt. And yet, still you stood.

People said such stupid things to you. So unthinking. Their words stabbed. They tried too hard — or, maybe, not enough. Just tell me stories, you screamed in your head, and don’t forget. You didn’t give a flying fig about angels at that moment. You wanted your flesh and blood.

Minute by minute, you crawled through the aftermath of endless hours and days. You were scattered and aimless, forgetful about the present and precise about the past. You curled into a fetal position and rocked in disbelief. Memories and scents and sounds clattered noisily through your psyche and kept you awake, wandering wide-eyed through rooms in the middle of the night. And still, you stood.

Your heart was broken open. You became vulnerable and unbearably fragile. Grief spread-eagled you into expanded states of awareness. You became sensitive to the slightest nuance of pain. You learned all too well the effects of loss. Tears slipped from your eyes without the slightest provocation. You were forever changed and permanently altered. Through sheer will and determination, you slowly re-entered the flow of daily life. It took such guts to pretend normality. And still, you stood.

There are still days when everything clicks into those “before” moments, and the focus becomes sharp and raw anew. You had no idea you could be so courageous and strong and defiant. You had no idea you could be so dangerously close to implosion. Your once-shattered heart has been re-imagined. Love has become a more tender kind of language. And still, you stand.

 

Nora McInerny: We don’t “move on” from grief. We move forward with it.

“In a talk that’s by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, writer and podcaster Nora McInerny shares her hard-earned wisdom about life and death. Her candid approach to something that will, let’s face it, affect us all, is as liberating as it is gut-wrenching. Most powerfully, she encourages us to shift how we approach grief. “A grieving person is going to laugh again and smile again,” she says. “They’re going to move forward. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve moved on.”

Beautifully said. It’s a heartfelt 15 minutes. You will never forget (nor should you) and you can live life. To me, it’s the “and and” concept versus before and after.

RIP: The collateral heartache of trauma and violence

This week, there have been three suicides as a result of trauma and violence, two student survivors of the Parkland, FL school shooting and one parent who lost a child in the Newtown school shooting. This is beyond heartbreaking for both families and school communities who have struggled valiantly to deal with the reality and aftermath of  their respective horrors.

Generally speaking, suicide can be a tipping point of pain or shame; a plea for help; a response to mental illness and biological vulnerabilities; the last gasp of despair and resignation; a consequence of hopelessness and isolation; an impulsive mistake; a conscious ending of life; the ultimate act of rage and fury; the result of unabated terror; a response to abandonment; the repercussion of accumulated stressors; as well as collateral damage from violence, addiction, and trauma.

In these cases, it is the collateral damage from the trauma of the school shootings and the ensuing complicated grief that most certainly influenced these suicides.

This collateral damage can leave you reeling with extreme emotional pain, gutted by the traumatic endings of  your loved ones’ lives and a high probability of survivor’s guilt.

Deep, intractable, dark-holed depression and breath-inhibiting, complicated grief can leave you in a tight, cramped, airless space where you can feel stuck, profoundly tired, deeply detached and disconnected. You can hurt all over. Nothing makes sense. Your thinking becomes binary, right or wrong, good or bad. In a word, boxed.

You can feel utterly despondent and despairing. Grief can sucker punch you in unexpected waves and leave you swimming in tears. Your sense of self has melted. There is overriding pain, conflicting emotions and, often, a continuous replay of the traumatic and violent specifics that leave you helpless and in agony for your lost loved one. Further, as with all grief and trauma, each experience opens the door to the memory of other experience of loss and trauma.

These three suicides serve as a highly charged cautionary tale that complicated grief and trauma leave our loved ones dangerously close to the edge. Clearly, it’s not easy. It is challenging and calls for all of our compassion, understanding and support of those who have found themselves walking this very challenging (in all possible ways) and, possibly, lethal path.

Suicide is not a natural response. If I were to put a pillow over your face, you would instinctively fight me. The pain, the big grief and the trauma had to be so big for each of these individuals to make the choice they did.

May all three of these survivors of the unthinkable find their respective long-lost peace and be held in the light.

 

Hope or a sky without stars

“…when she had those dreams at night, he was there, as if he had never died, although she knew, even in the dream, that he had. One day she would join him, she knew, whatever people said about how we came to an end when we took our last breath. Some people mocked you if you said that you joined others when your time came. Well, they could laugh, those clever people, but we surely had to hope, and a life without hope of any sort was no life: it was a sky without stars, a landscape of sorrow and emptiness.”


― Alexander McCall SmithBlue Shoes and Happiness

Go gently with your big heart

Go gently with your big heart. It is not a curse or a burden, but a gift that allows you to hold the universe in your being with love.

Go gently with your big heart. It is the doorway to mystery, the path to mastery and the road to compassion.

Go gently with your big heart. It is the opening that allows you to be your best, reach your fullest and connect with the divine.

Go gently with your big heart, it is the answer to your prayers.

 

“Too many things are occurring

for even a big heart to hold.”

from an essay by W.B. Yeats

The Path of Grief

Grief is akin to putting on your hip waders and walking into the deep, murky water of your psyche, the home of your inner life, where there are churning emotions and roiling thoughts along with forgotten bits and pieces. The footing is rocky, uneven, and unpredictable. You never quite know what will slide up against you or tangle your footing. There is so much you cannot see or discern beneath the waters. You move slowly and tentatively forward, sweeping debris and sludge away from your person, and choking back tears. Sometimes, you stand stock-still until there is enough fortitude to take another step. It’s an arduous, crazy-making process. And it’s a game-changer, too. Your worldview is forever changed, and your heart is re-assembled.