Wednesday, September 7, 2011

As wholeheartedly as the broken heart will allow.

I didn't want to write about grief so early in the history of this blog. But. Well. There you have it. It's what wants to be written about tonight. The subject of grief is much on my mind these days. There is much to grieve about when one is living a life and loves mightily. What do we do when grief catches us up? What do we do when it threatens to bring us to our knees, the tidal waves of tears caught in our hearts?

Evidently the psychological powers that be have decided there is a limit to how long we can grieve and still be considered mentally viable. About 2-6 months, according to the DSM-IV TR. Within those months, there are other criteria that one must meet so as not to be deemed clinically depressed: not too much guilt about the wrong things; not too many excessive feelings of worthlessness; be sure to speak clearly or precisely; get through daily life just fine; and absolutely no hallucinations in which the loved one tries to communicate beyond the misty veil with the living. If a person is lacking in a few of the above, well then, there's a problem - and evidently it's not grief.

I do hope you can read/hear my skeptical-bordering-on-scathing tone of voice above. I'm not sure who graphed grief and its attendant features to make such a neat and tidy summation of the wide range of human responses to loss, but he or she was flat out wrong. It just doesn't work that way. I have been working through one major loss for over 40 years now. And, yes, sometimes it interferes with my daily living.

In the last few weeks two of my dear friends have lost loved ones. These loved ones were both extraordinarily young. And they both died too suddenly and too tragically. What does one do with the grief? All of that sadness? All of those tears? All of that left-behindedness? With that big gaping hole where the loved one once stood?

I have some other ideas about what to do about grief besides tracking guilt levels and speech patterns. Here are some suggestions, some movements with and through grief, sort of like a Meander.

Wallow in all of the grief. Get lost in it. Be totally overwhelmed by it. Let your heart be broken by it. Let the brokenness be your heart.

"He awakened daily to the prospect of nothingness
in the day's house that like all houses was mortuary.
He slept on the fornicating bed of the last breath."
(from "Kill the Day" by Donald Hall in The Painted Bed - one of the saddest books I've ever read)

"Grief and the deep, slow processes of mourning to which it yields have a rhythm of their own, and to refuse to sink into those rhythms is to make a monument of a past which no longer has a future." - Robert Romanyshyn

Go. Grieve. Do it as wholeheartedly as your broken heart will allow. Only then will you come through to the other side. Only then can you return to life. "Loss is a season of the soulits winterand, like the winter of the world, a moment whose time must have its place," Romanyshyn assures us.

Get angry and wail.

"Despite the heaviness of a star
turned in upon itself,
I will teach myself to cry out
against this black thing
you invented over a bonfire . . .
When it visits my bed, I will sink my teeth
into its flesh, willing a voice
to be heard outside of my darkness."
(author's personal poetry)

Remember the world of things.
In "Melancholy Inside Families," Neruda focuses on the items of daily life-a blue bottle, an ear, the feathers of the owl, parachutes, kisses, a smashed cup, a curtain, stones, rain, mud. Ground yourself in the things of this world and pay them homage. They will keep you from floating away.

"Right here, Lord,
tether me to my shadow
like a fat, spavined mule
struck sideways in tankmud
bawling for eternity.

"At midnight,
when the stars slip their traces
and race the moon like wild horses
to their deaths in the darkness,
let my hoarse song twine with the nightwind."
-David Lee, "Psalm Written after Reading Cormac McCarthy and Taking a Three-Hour Climb to the Top of Pine Valley Mountain", in So Quietly the Earth.

Remember this earth - the dust from which we came and to which we go. This earth that holds us and the unbearable weight of our sadness.
"Do not be afraid to suffer, give
the heaviness back to the weight of the earth;
mountains are heavy, seas are heavy." - Rilke, "Sonnets to Orpheus IV"

". . . which I alone know,
because I am sad, and because I travel,
and I know the earth, and I am sad." - Neruda, "Melancholy Inside Families"

Most of all, do not forget to love and be loved.

For my two dear friends who have loved and lost this summer, this is for you. Remember~you are loved.

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