When Grief Catches You…

Martha Hayden’s “The Allegory of Grief”

It’s an odd sensation to come face to face with Grief when you’ve been avoiding her for so long. She catches you fiercely and winds around your chest and all the things make you catch your breath and squeeze feelings from your eyes.

It’s an even odder sensation to be in a mental/emotional/spiritual place to welcome Grief as a guest at your emotional table. Especially when, as the eternal optimist, I have never thought to leave a chair for her. I actually cast her as the villain in my story…alongside Anger, Sadness, and the cameo actress, Boundaries.

Grief snuck up on me quietly here in this space. I should of known she would…she’s been patiently waiting in the corner for everything else to quiet long enough for her to say, “Umm….hello…are you ready to chat now? Can we have a cup of tea and talk about all these other feelings in the corner over here?”

So I down an antidepressant with my coffee and pull up a chair at the table. “I’ve got a few days….what ya got?” I approach her like a to do list. Let’s get this one checked off, shall we? She smiles her gentle smile and shakes her head ruefully…Her big green eyes well with tears as she comes to the realization that I am not ready for her quite yet.

Grief…we prepare for it when we loose a loved one to physical death. It’s acceptable…allowed…heck, encouraged as part of the process of healing. So often, we forget that we experience death in so many ways in our lives….death of ideals, death of dreams, death of relationships, death of an identity. It feels like another world, but just last summer I helped write an original ballet about grief….you would think I would be a pro at accepting and processing it.

From the ballet, “Reckless Love.” Photo credit Flash 160

But truth be told, to grieve is to accept…and to feel…and I am so scared of those words right now. So I have powered through healing the giant hole that was left in my heart when I had to walk away from the dream I dreamed. I dealt with the guilt of pouring all my time, energy, heart, soul, health and finances into something that I eventually had to say I couldn’t be a part of anymore. With my therapist, I worked on healing the parts of me that had allowed relationships to become so terribly toxic they nearly tore me apart. I am working on setting boundaries and finding safe people to share my life with. I am learning so much about myself. It has been a golden road of self discovery and so, so cool to travel. Hard, at times, but very cool. But self discovery is a partially an intellectual process and easily compartmentalized in neat boxes that sit on the shelf of things I know about myself.

Grief is different. It’s a spaghetti bowl of emotions and memories and Kleenex commercials that tug at your heart. It’s missing people and situations and for me, it’s particularly difficult right now because all of those people, places and things have moved on without me. It’s fighting the envy monster inside that wants all of those things to grieve for me as much as I grieve for them. It’s not knowing if I should look at photos and watch videos and like all the instagram posts about how great things are without me (because truthfully, life goes on and shouldn’t I celebrate that?).

So I sit across from Grief at the table of my heart. She asks if I am ready for some others to join us…Anger saunters up and sits at the head of the table and Sadness and the bittersweet Nostalgia join us. I sit quiet and listen as they start to share with me. This is a process and more than one pot of tea and more than one moment of introspection will be shared here. I know that these companions will be with me for a bit, and that’s ok now. I also know if I want to invite Forgiveness and Acceptance to my table, that I must become friends with these here with me now.

Grief reaches across, and lays her hand on mine…”Let me introduce you to someone else who’s been waiting in the corner with us.”

I look up and look deep into two brown wells of compassion. “Cari, this is Peace. You’ve met before, but it’s been a while. ” He sits across from me with a smile and lays his hand on top of Grief’s on mine. This journey may be long, but it isn’t all discomfort and painful experience…Peace travels with us too.

Open Like a Lake….for when emotions are really raw

Glassy lake

so much hurt and preservation
like a tendril round my soul
so much painful information
no clear way on how to hold it

when everything in me is tightening
curling in around this ache
I will lay my heart wide open
like the surface of a lake
wide open like a lake

– Sara Groves, Like a Lake

The cursor blinks tauntingly at me and I sit here watching it and waiting.  I’ve tried to avoid writing today, but Simon says that “writers write” and “starving artists starve themselves mostly of self-belief and inspiration” so I sit obediently, with fingers poised over keyboard and wait for thoughts.

My head is full, and my heart brims over with a little bit of sadness and a little bit of malaise, and this is, most naturally, the time when words and tears spill out on the pages before me, but not today.  Today I want to stick my head in the sand and stay disconnected from this sadness in me and I know that opening the floodgates for words, opens the floodgates for emotion too.

A song plays in my head- one I heard this morning on my way to work that sounded pretty but didn’t tug on my heart because it was just words then and not real life. Then news comes of a life lost far too soon and the heart within me that is a mother and a older sister broke in two for the mother and sister who lost her, and suddenly just words turns to heart-aching truth and I am thankful that someone has the gift of making these truths into beautiful music. In the midst of the ache, a friend reaches across a thousand miles with a post about God and goodness and like the spot on my windshield where rock beat glass- it is the second hit that cracks the whole.

I tried earlier to write a post about speakers, but it didn’t come and I sat and stared and watched the cursor blink.  Then I tried to finish a post on secrets, but even those words wouldn’t come with any sort of rhyme or reason.

So instead I just sit and write. I am writing exactly what is happening as I am writing and I wonder if this might not be the first moment I have been truly present all this day.  But presence hurts today, so I stay quiet and keep my head down and hide in the back corner of the office hoping that no one will notice and come looking for me, because what I need most right now is just time.

So I apologize if the resources post is not up today, and quite honestly it may not be up tomorrow because tonight I will spend hugging babies and husband and truly relishing the people I love in my life.

So here is the resource for you today….and the tip on relationships for you the rest of the week:

Photo by Melton Microfilms

Photo by Melton Microfilms

Love.  Love deeply and strongly, and…please, please, please- SPEAK IT.  Say it out loud. Hug it out long.   Don’t wait, say it today, say it tomorrow and say it a lot. Leave no love unsaid- not in your marriage, or with your family, or with your friends, or with the lady who sits at the end of the pew and raises her hands when she sings worship, or with the man on the street corner who holds the sign that reads, “single dad just trying to make it work. Please help.”

And remember:

when everything in me is tightening
curling in around this ache
I will lay my heart wide open
like the surface of a lake
wide open like a lake- Sara Groves, Like a Lake