She sat there, alone, in the corner, until she cried it all out. Nobody had told her how to grieve. All she knew were two things – the rocking chair was where you sat to be soothed by your parents, and the corner was where you stood to reflect upon your sins. So she put the two ideas together. Her parents were no longer here to soothe her by rocking her back to sleep after a nightmare or to read her picture book filled with bunnies or bears.
The corner was where you stood facing inward, away from other people, a cheap form of solitary confinement. Bereft of company, you were stuck with your own thoughts. It was a foretaste of hell for those who feel guilty, felt wrong, felt broken. Never in her life had she voluntarily put herself there. This time was different. Everything was different now.
They died, both of them, not quite together, but a bit like dominoes anyway. People couldn’t quite grasp it, and assumed there’d been an accident. It wasn’t sudden. The signs were there all along. It was tragic only so much as it was preventable. It was sad that they’d squandered their lives, dissolved into nothingness, and for so long.
So now, not knowing what else to do, she sat, in the corner, in the chair. No need to face into the corner – nobody was there. Not just in the room, but the whole house. It was so quiet it was deafening. So here she sat, in the space of consoling isolation, to visit with the ghosts of her parents. They’d never left. Sure, their bodies were gone, buried in the cemetery on the other side of the city. Cemeteries and city dumps were always near each other, always in the low-rent part of town. The industrial waste recycling center was in the same block along the section 8 houses. It wasn’t an accident.
She noted she was getting distracted. Grief was like this, this veering away, then closer, like a moth to the flame at times. Dangerous to get too close. So usually we stay away. It hurts too much to look at it directly.
But after a while the phantom pains don’t fade. The anxiety stays long enough to pay rent. They both don’t have nameable causes, so when she finally notices her spirit is off-balance, she knows it is time to stop and face it.
How did she learn this, this inner healing? They certainly didn’t teach her. Death wasn’t something you talked about, just like politics or religion. It wasn’t nice to talk about in polite company. They acted like it was something that happened other people, less fortunate people, people who deserved it. They weren’t even in the same state when their own parents died. They skipped the funerals and cashed the inheritance checks. They wore black for about a month and told friends of their loss, but otherwise didn’t grieve. Maybe that is what killed them so young. If grief doesn’t get out by tears or wailing, it gets bottled up inside and starts eating you up from the inside out.
She was determined not to join them. So here she sat, in the corner, healing herself from the inside out.
Grant peace to those
who watch, or wait, or grieve tonight, Lord.
Be with them in the hours of darkness.
Lead them through
the valley of the shadow of death
into the calm and safety
of your promised new day.
searching for our mothers.
searching for our daughters.
and have lost.
Sometimes our arms
have to wrap around the shoulders
of someone else, someone
we are not related to
to comfort ourselves
and to comfort them.
Sometimes we have to be
for each other
what we don’t have
Inertia is absolutely normal and to be expected when grieving. This is a hard journey, this journey of grief. How to walk forward, when half of you is gone?
And yet we must walk forward, all of us, who have lost someone we love. We walk forward because they would want us to. We walk forward because to not do so is to die slowly, is to let that dull nothingness win.
Yes – we must sit with our grief for a time. We must make time for it, to absorb it, to let it speak to us. We must let it move through us, changing us, transforming us. How much time does it take? As much time as it does.
Consider the caterpillar in its cocoon. Consider the seed in the ground. They don’t know what they are becoming, but they are becoming. They are changing, sometimes painfully. Who would recognize them after they transform? Who would know what they had been, and how hard it was to get there? And yet they do.
And so do we.
There is a Buddhist story about a woman whose child had died. She carried him around the village in her arms, asking everyone she saw if they had medicine to help heal her child. Everyone who saw her was horrified and a little concerned about her but didn’t know how to help. One person finally suggested that she go to the teacher at the center of the village. The teacher was Buddha.
He looked at her with compassion, noticing her grief. She was carrying her dead child with her everywhere she went, desperate for help. He said “Go to every house in this village and ask every person if they’ve ever suffered from grief. If no one who lives in the house has ever experienced a death, then take a mustard seed from them, and I will make a medicine for you from those seeds.”
She did just that and discovered very quickly that every single person in the village had experienced grief in one way or another through someone they know dying or a difficult situation happening to them. All had suffered loss of some sort. She was unable to obtain any mustard seeds but she was able to obtain the medicine she needed through this exercise. She was able to accept her loss, and understand that it was no greater than anyone else’s.
We are like this when we continuously carry our burdens and we present them to others all the time.
We are like this when
we identify with our wounds.
When we describe ourselves as chronically ill
or that our parents died when we were young
or we are exiles from our homeland
or we are victims of any sort
having suffered from trauma, abuse, addiction.
When we do this, we are expecting others
to heal our wounds
forgetting that they have
ones that cut just as deep
and hurt just as much.
We have all suffered loss
and we all have brokenness.
Recognizing that is the medicine.
In the winter,
we can see the bones of things.
We can see the true shapes
of the trees.
We can see where the birds
have made their homes.
We can finally see
the river that nourishes both,
In the winter,
we know what is what,
without any pretense,
without any show.
No more padding,
no more guile.
In the winter,
you know where you stand
and what you have
to work with.
It is like this in our lives
when the storms tear down
Only when we have nothing
do we see what we really have
to work with.
Only when the tornado has come through,
the divorce is final,
the tragically died has been buried,
do we see what we really have,
what is our foundation.
We might have been building
all our hopes
on something frail,
We might have been
pinning our dreams
on something as insubstantial
as the morning mist.
It is a gift, this stripping away.