People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine
Grieving is like a flowing river. It’s a natural reaction to the natural cyclic processes of increases and decreases within a life. Each personal river of grief possesses its unique depths, beauty, and richness in its fluid movement to rejoin the bounteous ocean. Sometimes the river rages due to run-off from heavy rain, and we’re swamped with feelings that overwhelm us, like intense sadness or anger, which erupts at the slightest provocation. Such an eruption is like a boulder in midstream that can easily capsize our little, fragile boat.
At another time, the river is flowing more quietly and gently. We feel lulled into a momentary sense of acceptance and faith that all will somehow be well. Our appetite perks up again at the thought of making our favorite enchilada casserole or we realize we’re laughing riotously at our sister’s “bad” joke over the telephone. The laughter clears the waters and heals us from the inside out! The river of grief-filled emotions seems to lessen and begins to normalize so the currents are not so dramatic or debilitating.
The past few days on my river of grief, I’ve been in an emotional eddy of sadness and depression, going round and round in the muddy feelings associated with the new realities of life “after” Zoe. It’s been a month already since her death and that hit me hard. Round and round floundering in my sadness creates more and more sadness, because my energy can only attract its likeness. Last night, the sharp edge of my anger surprised me, and Chris was the unfortunate target on the receiving end of my nasty snarls.
An eddy in a river tends to be a gentle thing that stops the linear flow of water, slows it velocity, and sends it into a circular pattern, thereby causing it to drop its load of suspended silt and organic debris, which in turn nourishes the inhabitants within the eddy. An eddy is thus a transitory wayside, but one that is highly functional. Nonetheless, traversing the same emotional scenery as I repeat the circular route, I am faced with the “reality check” of “do I want to remain here, languishing and self-focused?” or “do I want to get back into the river’s main channel with Chris, whose normal state is the joyful “cosmics of energy,” to see what’s up ahead around the next bend of our life?”
In this instant of choice, I am the most powerful woman in the world! The outcome rests entirely with me in how I steer my “emotional and mental” boat down the river of life to meet the occasional deafening roar of the big rapids (like a death, loss of financial stability, a divorce, or a serious illness)—the major ones that test my core and resilient adaptability. No outside force or person or situation is making me feel one way or another. The external conditions are simply a mirror that shows how I am presently navigating the energetic currents of my life by resisting (fear) or flowing (love) with them.
And what I am feeling or its intensity or the magnitude I assign to my loss may not match what you’d be feeling at the same point in your river of grief. “There is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss,” explains Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her final book prior to her death in 2004, “Our grieving is as individual as our lives.” She would be emphatic in her counsel to each of us not to “tuck messy emotions into neat packages” or distinct “stages” or capitulate to outside pressure to feel happier and grateful for what you did have but rather to move through our own processing of a loss in an authentic way according to our own timing.
That said, when two people in the same household are at different stages in the grieving process, it is much like a flaming extrovert living with a subdued introvert happy to be tucked away at home reading a book. Or like two people who need to be surrounded with different color palettes, for reasons of internal harmony, such as the one who loves the light sage greens and taupe tones of earth, while the other gravitates toward exuberant expressions of colors like passionate reds and purple. When two people are not in sync in their emotional experiences, it requires enormous patience, understanding, compromise, and deep love—on both sides!
Chris, having dealt with killing and death in his earlier life and later in his work overseas and research with mammals, is able to accept a significant loss, such as our beloved cat, Zoe, allow the feelings to wash over him with great intensity, shed his tears for the physical separation, and then move on in total acceptance to embrace the joy of living in this day. A Buddhist monk would say “yes” to an exceedingly pleasing event with his right hand and “yes” to his temporary loss of health with his left hand. Both are of equal measure because his inner equilibrium flows with a deep, quiet, steady current in his river of life no matter what obstacles he encounters.
A person I knew many years ago sadly never got over a devastating bankruptcy of his business. In his reaction to the terrible loss, he hit a fast moving whirlpool in his river of grief, feeling totally out of control, and at the mercy of overwhelming emotions. He allowed the swirling maelstrom to suck him down into a pitiful state of alcohol abuse and continual inability to hold onto any kind of regular work. He was adrift, directionless, discontent, and felt like he’d been a victim of circumstance, for which he blamed everyone else. He never made the conscious decision to let go of his past misfortune in order to heal and to get out of his self-created whirlpool, a state that caused untold suffering for his family.
Another person may hit an unforeseen whirlpool, which temporarily sucks him or her to the bottom, but then, like the releasing effect of choice, the river spits them up and out of the pressing waters and off they sail, thanking their Stars of Fortune! Kübler-Ross, the psychiatrist who first described (in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying”) the five stages of grief individuals may or may not go through following a severe loss put it precisely: “Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose, there are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.”
For many years, Kübler-Ross traveled the globe packing her workshops to capacity with individuals who were ready to process current and ancient losses in a caring, supportive, understanding environment. Everyone was in a similar “emotional” boat and the level of individual and collective healing that transpired was phenomenal! She was very direct in her approach, yet through trust and a compassionate heart she helped thousands of people to break through into a higher, qualitative level of participation within their life. As a result of her wise counsel, she midwifed the participants’ ability to give an even greater portion of their personal gifts and talents, but now free from encumbering blocks due to repressed, unresolved loss and grief. A very good friend of mine attended several of her workshops, and he was gently transformed in this healing environment.
As I look out the window, I see the sun peaking through a bank of clouds in the west, about to depart from His day’s work, but still sending a reassuring Ray of Healing to lift my spirits. I’m not feeling quite the heaviness I did during the last few days. My little boat has left the circularity of the “sadness” eddy I was in and is drifting free once again to travel another stretch of the river. I’m glad I honored my true feelings and didn’t attempt to mask them to paddle prematurely back into waters I wasn’t ready for.
I’m glad too that we have a remodeling project to turn some creative energy toward redesigning the beauty and flow of my office space—a new arrangement, a new color, and a new vibrancy! My river of life is flowing with the lovely contentment of looking forward and the incredible blessing of the many wonderful years we got to share with our beloved Zoe.
Text and Photos © by Zane Maser, 2010. All rights reserved worldwide.
My editorial guru and technological wizard is Chris Maser, my delightful husband.
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