Often we are told, if we are to be horse trainers, to leave our emotions at the gate. But sometimes it happens that we ARE the gate. Not an ordinary gate, but a sluicegate, holding back the tides and the incoming waves. And not just our own waves, but the rushing streams and confluences of a whole family. A family with its original center dead and gone, leaving the survivors adrift now and again, dealing with and accepting that those we loved SO MUCH who have died before us aren’t coming back.
Where we find our strength is in understanding that now it’s our turn to be the heartbeat of our own family, be it blood relatives or a family we have built ourselves.
This isn't about the raw grief and pain of the recent loss of a loved one
or a family pet, but about the abiding sadness that becomes a part of who we are, that acknowledges what we have lost while at the same time uplifting our continuing commitment to the fullness of the life that is still surrounds us.
My mother was the matriarch of a family, before her my grandmother. Tremendously strong women whom I miss more than anything, because while they were alive I could indulge myself within the shallow safe waters of being a child with a parent to protect and comfort me, even after I had become a mother myself. Now it’s my turn to embrace being the matriarch, the go-to person for my adult children, the one who maintains the refuge called home.
Grief never leaves us, but it will go and sit quietly in a corner; reading, drawing, leafing through old photo albums, or perhaps knitting an eternal shawl like Odysseus’ wife Penelope, letting us go about our business with no bother.
But once in awhile grief stands up to stretch her legs and elbows us in the side, steps on our foot, gets in our face. When she has our attention, grief says “Hey, I’m still here. Open up the sluicegate because I’m coming through. Open up the gate, because if you don’t, I’m going to bend it and break it, knock you off your feet and leave you emotionally crippled."
If you've got to my age, you've probably had your heart broken many times. So it's not that difficult to unpack a bit of grief from some little corner of your heart and cry over it.
~ Emma Thompson ~
But grief comforts us too; she says “Don’t be afraid of me, I’m not going to stay long, then I will drift back to my corner, pick up my knitting and my sketch pad and savor my memories. And don’t resent me, because I am part of who you are."
"I make you remember you are alive and strong. You are still here. You are still needed.”
So what do we do when grief comes calling, sometimes unexpectedly, maybe feeling differently than it has before? How do we cope?
First of all, take care of yourself. If you feel you need to sleep more, stay in bed late, hide in your room, it’s OK to do that for a few days. If talking to someone helps, then talk. If it doesn’t help, then ask those around you to respect your privacy. Taking walks always helps. Go to the park, the movies, take a road trip, treat yourself to a little retail therapy. You get to choose what makes you feel better, and indulge.
Secondly, remind yourself that the tides of grief are changeable and high tide is temporary, even if you fear that it isn’t. Grief is always with us, but as a companion who occupies a corner of our heart, not a judge or a dictator who takes over and robs us of our mindfulness and our ability to find joy in the moment. Turn away from martyrdom, it holds no future.
All the cells in our body carry the DNA of our parents and grandparents. Our brain cells are sparking with an energy that literally passed from their bodies to ours. In a tangible way, those we lost are still with us, just in a different form – we are all chalices carrying the water of life.
Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops
the powers of the mind.
~ Marcel Proust ~
Do you have some thoughts or feelings about grief - how it has affected you, how you have coped with it? Feel free to share.
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