"TO BE LOVED IS TO BE GIVEN LIFE" - those words were written years ago by the artist wife of my minister and he used them as a Christmas card the year following her death. To be loved is to be given life -odd words for a memorial for someone who has died. What does that mean? Given life...
In our society, in relatively recent times, we avoid mention of death. We left the armbands behind, left the wakes held at home behind, left the formal mourning periods behind. Death is a spectre, just like on Halloween, hovering in the shadows of our homes, our lives, our minds, and we use a great deal of energy trying to find a way to shut the door on those shadows and seal them off forever.
When our childrens' pets die, we buy another. The illusion is that life is replaceable, that pain can be erased in the blink of an eye with a new puppy. When our parents die, we keep our children home from the funeral. We keep our tears and pain inside, so that they (and we) won't have to experience that so uncomfortable emotion, despair. It feels so out of control and so intense that we fear we might frighten the children. So, while we can't replace Grandma with a new puppy, we can act as if it's ok that she died. We might even pretend she's "away" or "asleep," common euphemisms for the word "dead." We can not talk about her; we can fill the space she had in our lives and in our homes with other people or more work - or a new car. Or a new love. The hole is not only a physical one (she's not in that chair anymore) but a spiritual one and a psychological one- and we race around desperately trying to fill it with everything and anything except the few things we really need.
|Golden Tarot - L. Dean|
We need education. Sit with someone who is dying, as I have done at Hospice. When you spend time with a dying person, you find they are Person first. Not a spectre. They live, often better than before. They find great pleasure in people, in children, in animals. They still find joy in reading, in smelling fresh cut grass, in watching the birds on a snow-covered pine. They are thoughtful and less concerned with things tangible - like money or possessions, except as a legacy they might be leaving a loved one. But they are very real, very human - very alive.
|5 of Water - Gaian Tarot|
Joanna Powell Colbert
We need to learn about grieving as well. It helps to have a belief about life beyond death - but usually that's not our biggest concern when a loved one dies. An incredible amount of the pain of grieving comes not from worry about where they are, but from the fact that they are not here with us. Grief can be an emotional, psychological and physical maelstrom. So much is unanticipated, unexpected. We experience a gnawing in our guts, a weariness in our bones, a breaking of our hearts. When my mother died, some thirty years ago, I wrote a poem:
"This morning when I woke up, I found my heart had been ripped from my body....What I want to know is... why am I still alive?"
We become forgetful, losing moments, hours, names, faces, appointments. We see things: the look of our beloved on a stranger in the hardware store - or visions that are so real, but impossible to explain.
We hear voices - or we are visited in our dreams.
We remember and remember and remember - with others, on paper, in our daydreams and our night dreams. We relive so many moments, trying to keep them alive and here with us. We are so afraid to forget.
|Vision Quest Tarot|
So we need to know about grieving and how long it will take. Hiding from the spectres of death and grieving leave us unprotected from the turmoil they bring. If we know, we can take care of our needs, learn to share our pain and not be overwhelmed. Grief happens all our lives, if not from death, then from divorce, or job loss, or moves, or aging. The grief experience is the same, and it carries compound interest from all the others before it. The more we know, the more we can help ourselves and our children.
At last we can take the time and energy to begin to understand who we are now - after.
When someone dies, they are transformed. Some faiths believe our souls go to a heaven of clouds and harps where we live happily ever after. Some believe literally that God's house has many mansions where we will all go,, and other that only they will receive everlasting life. Some believe in a seemingly endless cycle of life, learning, death and rebirth until we reach oneness with God. People who don't believe in a God or afterlife acknowledge that at least the body becomes part of the earth again, fertilizer, renewing other life.
The reality is, when someone dies, they are transformed - whatever you pay attention to.
We are a fresh creation.
But we have not left our beloved behind. We have not forgotten. If death is like a shedding of our outer skin, a metamorphosis, grieving and healing from grief is like communion - an absorption into our living flesh, our changing psyche, our evolving spirit - of the essence of our beloved.
It's hard to understand - ask someone who has grieved. Those parts we thought were gone forever have now become part of us. And with that transplant comes a new human being - broken, but stronger at the broken places, as Hemingway said. Malleable, but firm, solid and real, but transcendent. All those cliches about dawn after darkness, spring following winter - are real, true.
They are true because love and grief are inextricably bound. We don't grieve what we never loved. We grieve only those things or people who have enriched our lives and given it meaning. When we love deeply, we grieve deeply. But we do not forget. And in our remembering we keep our loved one alive.
To be loved is to be given life.