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the courage to grieve [no more]

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There’s one row on my bookshelf that I haven’t touched for some time. It sits prominently at eye level, affording easy access to any one of 60-or-so titles. Time has come to move them all a little lower. My interest has shifted.

“Grief is preoccupying and depleting,” writes Judy Tatelbaum,

Emotionally, grief is a mixture of raw feelings such as sorrow, anguish, anger, regret, longing, fear, and deprivation. Grief may be experienced physically as exhaustion, emptiness, tension, sleeplessness, or loss of appetite.

Grief sat at the top of my existence for several years, intense and multifaceted, affecting my emotions, my body, my entire life. It does so no more! Its place has been taken by quiet joy as I awake each morning.

Grief is the wound that needs attention in order to heal. … It takes courage to grieve. It takes courage to feel our pain and to face the unfamiliar. It also takes courage to grieve in a society that mistakenly values restraint, where we risk the rejection of others by being open or different.

I didn’t feel all that courageous when I sat out to grieve. Six or seven years ago, I was drawn to volunteer in the palliative care at a small hospital. A tumultuous love affair ripped open a life-time of unhealed wounds. Travelling back and forth to San Francisco I trained in end-of-life care and wept through most of the classes.

Teaching a workshop on “mindfulness at the bedside” led to paid hospice work. Dying, death, loss, anguish, and tears became my daily sustenance. After work I’d come home exhausted, collapsing into restoring sleep. Back the next day, I’d relish the ever-present pain — the comfort of being with people who thought grief was normal. We’d weep together, laugh, hug, and carry on. I thought I’d come to the top of my hill, that it didn’t get any better. Eighteen months later, that job ended. Shoved out the door, abandoned once more. A pain-filled year ensued, what HM The Queen would call an annus horibilis: selling home after 21 years, giving away books and furniture, bicycle-meets-Volvo accident with soft-tissue trauma, broken bones, neuropathic pain, walking stick, pain meds, more tears, touching bottom.

All that’s come and gone. The heart grows stronger and love returns. Love for self, for another, for this morning of pale spring sunshine. The plum-tree is in bloom, the neighbour’s pugs are barking at a truck a thousand times their size, and it’s time to go for breakfast.

source: Tatelbaum, J. (1980). The courage to grieve. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 7-8


9 responses »

  1. Nice tour of impermanence, hard to remember that “this too shall pass” when we’re in the middle of it all. So nice that the sun is shining in your world, brings a smile to my face.

  2. Such a powerful image that we are not our emotions or the temporary cloak of this now that we wrap ourselves in. Thank you for the vision of emergence and letting go of it all.

  3. really makes ‘be here now’ so important –

  4. Your daily words have become important and sustaining to me. Thank you. Yes, all will pass. I don’t like the feeling that I want to rush it. Am I more disappointed with myself or with others? Ah! What to do? Be. When inside, and outside, seem so empty, life hollow.

  5. yes, patricia: empty, hollow, wanting to rush, wishing to be. all states of mind: annoying and uncomfortable … yet impermanent.

    Best advice my teacher ever gave me: welcome everything!

    By not resisting, i allow it to run its course and my belly to soften. By fighting it, i infuse it with energy and my heart to become exhausted.

    Be gentle with yourself.



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