Thursday, January 26, 2017

On Grief

"Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind." 
-Marcel Proust

^ Grief usually drives me straight to my garden...but at this time of year, I'm finding that trips to the nursery are just as therapeutic. And much less muddy.

^ Right now, I'm all about the indoor plants. I do not need a single one - my windowsills and table tops are already bursting with green friends - but my hunger for new life will not be denied.

^ Succulents can be temperamental and fussy to grow, but when tiny, perfect specimens are lined up in sweet rows, I am charmed. Resistance is futile. 

^ This exploding pink flower did not make my short list of specimens to take home but I surely enjoyed his upbeat attitude. 

^ My second-born and I tiptoe around the puddles and find hope in the sweet miracle of green things. 

* * * * *

During the past few months, I've been hit by three waves of death.

In less than one hundred days - ninety-six, to be exact - I've lost my mother, my father, and my good dog, Ranger.

This has been quite a stormy season for me. 

And while I grieve each one of these tsunamis in my life, I've noticed how strikingly different the nuances and lessons of grief can be. 

* * * * *

My mother's death came as a blessing. She had been too sick for too long and her passing was both unexpected and merciful. And while I hate the disease that stole the last thirteen years of her life, I'm profoundly grateful for the way her journey through Lewy Body Dementia reconciled our relationship. After a lifetime of misunderstandings and mixed emotions, we finally made our way to a place of love, understanding, and peace. But at that point, the person who once was my mother was a faint shadow of her former self. So who exactly is the mother that I miss now?

This is a grief that confuses me.

My dad's death sealed his fate as a failed father. From his inexcusable behavior during my childhood to his unapologetic absence in my adult life - since I turned 21, I saw him a grand total of three times - I had always allowed myself to believe that he might one day reach out to me and redeem himself. Now, I didn't put a lot of stock in that premise but I did leave an emotional door open for him, in case he ever wanted to step through. But no. He never did and now he never will. He died lonely and alone and I pity him.

This is a grief that gives me clarity.

Ranger's death was pure and sweet. My dog lived a blessedly long and happy life, so in that respect, his passing was a celebration of abundance and fine living. But as caregiver to an animal who lovingly trusted me in all things, I felt the sharp edge of responsibility for his tender heart. In Ranger's final days, I was completely absorbed with the responsibility of keeping him physically comfortable and emotionally secure in a peace beyond his understanding. I wanted so much to give him a calm and soothing death, and I think - and I hope and pray - that's what he felt. 

And this is a grief that makes me cry bittersweet tears of love and sadness and blessed relief. 

* * * * *

I've learned that there are no easy answers or quick fixes for grief. 

I understand better how intensely personal grief must always be, for it springs from our individual relationships and no two relationships are ever the same.

I've hungered for contact with other people who grieve.

Even though we rarely understand each other perfectly, and the words are sometimes fumbling and awkward, I'm profoundly grateful each and every person who has reached out to me to express their compassion and care.

Love does not overcome grief, but it walks alongside it and holds its hand.

God has used my grief to draw me closer to him. If there is ever a time when we need God, it's when we are staring into the face of eternity, and he has totally come through for me. I'm thankful for that.

The waves of grief will be with me forever; periodically knocking me down, holding me under, stealing my breath, and then, always, setting me back on my feet so I can feel the sand under my toes and the warm sun up above me once again.

And when the waves of grief roll up on you, I promise to dive into the water and help you get back on your feet. I'll even hold your hand if you want.

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