October 26, 2020
Prior to my mom’s death in December 2012, I thought of grief in primarily emotional ways. I understood the potential for sadness. The tears. Desperate longing. Pain.
I’d sat with many clients in the years leading up to her death – clients who sat across from me in pure lament, fumbling through grief’s muddy waters with tears streaming down their faces. I’d put on my suit of armor, prepared to fight grief’s battles alongside them, session after session after painful session.
While I recognized the impact of grief on the body, coupled with spiritual shifts, the emotional toll took center stage. And I focused my thinking on death itself. Understandable, perhaps, particularly for someone who hadn’t yet suffered a devastating and personal loss. Naïve, yes.
On the heels of my mom’s death, however, what I discovered was heart-wrenching ache in the deepest parts of my body, mind, and soul. I discovered the challenges inherent in clinging to the relationship with her in death, while at the same time navigating relationships with the living. I found fear in connection to those in my present, wondering when they too might suddenly fade into my past.
No escaping the weight of decisions to be made, questions to be answered, and life to be lived alongside overwhelming fatigue. No avoiding the flood of memories that paralyze and comfort you at the same time.
The grief process is layered, complex, and lifelong.
On the surface, it involves mourning the death of a loved one. Coping with the reality of experiencing life apart from what was cherished and known. Navigating the pain of loss.
At the same time, grief involves sifting through a collection of memories, sometimes riddled with missed conversations, miscommunication, and regret.
It calls forth the desire for deeply anchored connection in the here-and-now, sometimes rooted in the fear and anxiety of losing again. Grief can usher in the need to tether oneself to what is living and breathing, if only to be reminded that life marches forward.
Experiencing the death of a loved one can unearth inner wounds that never received water or sunlight. Wounds found in relationship to the loss or otherwise. And grief can also offer up opportunities to transform, heal inwardly, and grow in new directions.
Grief is not only a craving for moments past, but also an exploration of how to live in the present. How to be. How to love again. How to be loved again.
And information resides within the cracks – keys to unlock what is/was familiar and guide us into the unfamiliar.
One of the most important pieces of information I’ve discovered throughout my grieving is the importance of legacy building.
Legacy. [ leg–uh-see ]: anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor (definition from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/legacy).
Grief continues to crack wide open how short-lived this life is. How short-lived my life is, causing me to consider what I’ll leave behind – what I’ll hand down.
It’s the answers to these questions that keep me moving forward, not in spite of, but because of my experiences with loss.
Even the writing of these very words does my heart well, as I reflect on their timelessness and power to make a difference beyond me and beyond today.
See, legacy shifts the focus from my simply doing in the present to how what I’m doing in the present might impact the future. It anchors me in the ‘why’ and allows me to use what I’m experiencing as I grieve to inform and inspire others.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say the cracking open of things is painful and shatters the shell of what we know and crave. As a woman’s womb cracks open to birth new life, there is much stretching and tremendous pain.
The cracking open of things, at least for me, has also brought with it fresh ideas, relationships, understandings of myself, and ways of being in the world.
Along these lines, as grief does its inevitable work, be kind to yourself. Be open to the moments when you feel inspired to do or quietly be. Know that both acts – the doing and the being – serve a significant purpose as you grieve.
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