A Brief on Grief

A Brief on Grief

It ain’t brief.

Now that the sarcasm is out of the way, let us take a deep look at grief. Western culture has a taboo against grief breaking its bounds and heaving up concrete bridges of falsehood. It must not topple the stadium of the staid. It must not crack open the head and thus reveal the heart. And worst of all, the heart must never speak at cocktail parties or neighborhood barbecues or church picnics or—oh, never mind.

We must instead turn to grief counselors, therapists and certified degree holders to tell us how to find our new normal. My new normal is changing on a daily basis, for grief washes me into canyons of chaos and renders me fit only to be carried on a stretcher of spirit into a cloudless sky of silence. I don’t qualify for disability. I don’t qualify for sainthood. I do qualify for the unpaid writing I do endlessly online.

God has been listening to my pleas and prayers for a good long time. Instead of supplying me with another husband or daughter, He has, instead, fitted me for a solitary life. My son lives with me, bearing the same losses that I do, fitted for his own stretcher of spirit. For we must fully surrender to what is, must lie on the ground lifeless, before God sends his EMTs to us. And they make sure we don’t understand what is happening.

We are dropkicked back down to earth with a sense that we might be of use but it is never clear what we are to DO exactly. In my case, I found that my grief was not to be brief but lifelong. I had to carry it carefully on my head like a clay jug of water. I have tried to be graceful about it and have been rewarded in small ways.

I know how to keep a low profile, keep silence and keep the prayer of Jesus going. And yet sometimes I cry and sometimes I rant and at other times I just appear to be normal. But I am decidedly not.

One person who helps me a great deal is John Fox, the founder of Poetic Medicine. He is that rare soul that encourages and allows people to write poems about anything. Under his quiet tutelage we all become poets and damned fine ones. We sit in a circle, reading aloud what we have written. But only if we choose. The group sits in a loving acceptance of each word falling from a bruised heart. Talk about being lifted up. Talk about profound appreciation for those we have lost. For what remains is sanctified.

We write of our losses in order to lift ourselves about the mechanical grieving that we usually do. We weep in words; we cry hallelujah in phrases that pop unbidden onto the page. I love John’s work and can scarcely contain my joy when I hear he will be in town for another Poetic Medicine Workshop. I will close with a poem of his:

When Someone Deeply Listens To You

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.

When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem begins to glow in your mind’s eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.

— John Fox

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