Good Grief. It's a term I use often without thinking much about it. One of those oxymora, like pretty ugly or virtual reality. Or, is it? Is there really such a thing as good grief?
Not long after my mother died in February, I was on a walk with a friend who asked if I had any thoughts on grief, if my recent experience had enlightened me. She had read the March newsletter that I had written and seemed disappointed that I hadn't said something more about it. It got me thinking. Do we allow ourselves to talk about grief enough? Do we feel that others are willing to engage in this conversation? Having lost her own mother not too long ago, my friend was willing to engage. "Do you have any regrets?" she wanted to know.
What is it about death, the finality of it that allows us to feel things we should have known all along? When I flew to the Bay Area for the first time after the funeral, it struck me harder than the day my mother died that she was no longer there. My usual phone call right after landing didn't need to happen. No enthusiastic voice on the other end of the line to welcome me. "Home," such as it is for any of us, felt permanently altered. No matter that our roles had flip-flopped long ago after my father died, I didn't appreciate how much she anchored my own sense of belonging and identity. As Janie's daughter, I was well-versed in the art of etiquette, the proper use of "I" and "me," and that to stand up and be counted is our greatest responsibility as human beings, whether it is to lend our time for a cause that needs our help or to speak up in the face of prejudice. If, in grieving, we recognize the indelible marks left upon us, the testament to a life well-lived, then in this recognition, perhaps you could call it "good grief."
Losing the second parent carries a particular sting. There is no older generation, no protective ceiling to shield you from your own mortality. If thirty years ago my father's death had the effect of scattering my four siblings and me to the winds, my mother's death had the opposite effect. In the days before and after her funeral we shared a generosity with each other that stands as a fitting tribute to legacy and love and here again, I can say "good grief."
My mother was a big believer in miracles and held steadfast to her own faith. Home for her had long ago been diminished when my father died and so when she asked that I pray that, "God would take her home," I know she saw her own death as a win-win. Maybe knowing this is also "good grief. (Katie)
Always a sucker for a sale, I am in the midst of a Week of Transformation, a special package at the gym I just joined. Now, every time I turn or walk or even breathe, I get a sharp reminder that although I exercise religiously, there are always muscles to enhance and strength to build.
It has made me look at things differently. I used to think of transformation as being explosive, kind of like the Transformer superheros my children once played with...you know Boom! something happens and suddenly you change course. Some transformations are like that: mother or fatherhood for example, with their responsibility for a new and helpless life. And with weddings all around us, we see the beautiful couples take their vows, full of promise and with anticipation of the multiplicity of changes that are in store.
Other transformations are ones we expect, either marked by decade birthdays or the passage of those dear to us; but the little things, like the sudden tweak of a new muscle, also deserve our attention. Too often we find ourselves only looking at the big transformations - the ugly ducking to the graceful swan. If it doesn't have pop, do we even take the time to notice it?
It has taken me years to recognize that transformation is more about paying attention: feeling at home in your body, slowing down, being present and relishing the gifts we find around us. It's also about recognizing the deepening bonds of selflessness, caring and support that we put into our relationships with others and with the world. These are the things that become truly transformative, in the steady stream of moments strung together in our lives...and in the epiphany that occurs when suddenly we recognize, I am different.
My aching muscles remind me that change always has to come from the inside. As Martha Stewart would say - and I would now agree- "That's a good thing!" (Joan)
I have been creating a garden lately, tearing out the old patio, gopher-proofing, and replanting for the drought. It's been a long time since I've had such pleasure digging in the dirt, enjoying the sun, the breeze and the sound of the birds. Like the ancients, who celebrated the seasons in Ephesus in honor of the goddess Demeter, I am celebrating, for I think the Spring in me has returned.
Along with the joy of planting and being in the nursery among living, beautiful things, I am also acutely aware of a true sense of loss. I am grateful for this respite in my life; having this space of time to plant also means time to feel things, think about things, assess the past and let go of what I cannot change. As I plant my nasturtium seeds, imagining how they will look in July, I think about how the juxtaposition of loss and death with growth and rebirth is so clearly a part of life. When I plant the new, I am aware of what went before and can never return. There is loss and grief associated with that. I tell myself that Life Truth and feel what was too hard, or too frightening, for me to feel before.
But the regret and grief doesn't stay. The woman I was then, when whatever happened, happened, deserves my love and respect. She was brave, she tried very hard, and she did her best.
I sometimes get up early now to hear the world wake up. Watching how the sun dispels the darkness underscores that I am alive for another day of possibility. My friend, Patty (the one who was really and truly hit by a bus), also reminds me that every day is a chance to live. My friend, Jack, is fighting cancer and is being reborn this moment with stem cells. And yesterday, I discovered this amazing young man while reading the Huffington Post on Religion. I was moved by his wisdom and ability to seize the moment. Shalin Shah's last wish, that people treasure life and see all the sunsets, has gone viral. You can read what he has to say at: http://www.huffingtonpost.
Like Shalin, we all have a bucket list - those things we hope to achieve or do before we die. But living our life purpose should be at the top of that list. And what I have come to understand and believe is that it is in living each moment that we fulfill our part in the unfolding of God's creation. So be present, be joyful and treasure the moment. Forgive who you were and love who you are, because right now, you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Much of the last several months I have spent on airplanes crisscrossing the country. From CA to MA, WY to FL, CO to NY, it has been a blessing and a privilege to spend so much time with my mom, mother-in-law and an assortment of others: a veritable feast of family, restoring our souls as well as frail bodies chilled by the harsh winter. I have gotten to see Spring reappear in all of its glory and felt the grace and restoration that comes with laughter, fresh air, beautiful scenery and a renewed outlook on life. Like most of us, I have experienced moments of frustration where my patience has worn thin, moments of anxiety about choices that are made and even moments of pain with yet another fractured bone in my foot. The faces of spring, a generosity of spirit and finding joy in the moment is where I have found life's small, yet powerful, miracles.
I wonder if perhaps I am finally on the road to understanding the notion of finding God in all things. This belief is at the root of the Ignatian spirituality I struggled with so many years ago as an undergraduate at BC. If so, Thank God, better late than never... (Joan)
On a winter evening a few weeks ago, I disembarked from a cab on the south side of Central Park on my way to meet three friends. The snow had been coming down all day and had finally tapered off. Before I turned to cross the street, I was struck by the way the snow seemed to settle into a wondrous evening light. The street lamps had just come on and a steady and clear calm had descended.
I had been home for a week from my mother's funeral and the immediate aftermath, duties of unwinding a life. When the late afternoon emails started, "Are we still up for this?" followed by three confirmations, my relief was palpable. No mere snowstorm could keep any of us away. I hadn't realized how much I needed this connection; how much I needed to get back among the living.
Once inside, at a table overlooking the park, wine in hand, one of my friends told us about a series she was watching from Deepak Chopra and we got on the topic of transcendence. Had any of us had moments of transcendence? The two of us who had, referenced experiences as simple as digging in the garden when the air suddenly stilled and a window into the depths of existence seemed to open or as exhilarating as a feeling of oneness while alone at the top of a mountain. Even though our two friends looked at us in mild bewilderment, I was sure these moments are not just for the few. I am convinced we are all able to go beyond the limits of ordinary experience. Is it about being open? Aware? Lucky? Or, is it about Faith? And if Faith is the answer; faith in what?
Personally, I seem to have stumbled into the rare moment of transcendence even as I struggle with the faith part. And yet, Keep the Faith became my default book inscription when autographing copies of The Miracle Chase. Beyond the notion that I am referencing a 60's vibe and not any particular form of faith, maybe I wanted it to rub off on me, while hoping to free everyone else from the struggle. After all, Keep the Faith covers a lot of bases. It can mean faith in ourselves and manifest itself in resilience, tenacity and the fulfillment of dreams. It can mean faith in something or someone bigger or beyond ourselves, a place where transcendence springs forth or God "...by whatever name" is found.
Coincidentally, the priest saying my mother's funeral Mass repeated one of my favorite quotes, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." (Teilhard de Chardin) This would mean we all originated in a state of transcendence and, presumably, could check back in once in a while, if only we knew how.
Maybe, what struck me that evening, truly stopped me in my tracks at the end of a deeply winter day, was the way the light played on the dormant trees, how the calm after the storm seemed so full of promise. In the midst of feeling distracted and detached these last several weeks, the scene caught me by surprise and offered reassurance. Wishful thinking? I say, Keep the Faith.