Grief can't be shared. Everyone carries it alone. His own burden in his own way.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
One of the things I've noticed since Matthew died is how the themes of grief and loss appear everywhere. Grief and loss seem to be the common threads in so many of the books I've read or movies I've watched or songs I've listened to these past three years. Of course, I realize that they've probably always been there and that it's just my perspective that has changed. It's similar to how after you buy a new car and all of a sudden you see it everywhere you go. Once your heart has been broken open, grief and loss appear around every bend.
A couple of weeks ago I was watching one of my new favorite PBS shows-Call the Midwife. If you haven't checked this show out, I recommend you give it a try. It takes place in the late 1950's in the East End of London and follows a group of young midwives and nuns as they care for young women in post WWII England. It's based on the memoirs of Helen Worth and offers a glimpse into a period when London was rebuilding itself after the war.
The particular scene I want to share is one that focuses on a Holocaust survivor who has essentially been a shut-in since the war ended 12 years ago. She lives with her son-in-law and daughter, who is about to give birth. The older woman has not left the apartment since she and her daughter relocated there after losing everybody in Germany. But the birth of the baby awakens something in her, and she begins to venture out of the apartment and live again. When one of the midwives who has been involved with the family is faced with a tragic loss herself, the older woman says the following to her:
"You will feel better than this, bubbela. Maybe not yet. You just keep living until you are alive again."
I actually stopped the dvr on the television and replayed that scene. Such simple words, and yet they summed up so much of what I feel like I've learned these last few years. "You just keep living until you are alive again."
Yes, that's it. That's really the only advice you can give someone who is faced with a tragic loss. You can't offer any platitudes or timelines of when they will feel better. You can't tell them that their loved ones are in a better place now or that you know how they are feeling. Because even if you've had a similar loss, no one knows how you are feeling. But you can tell someone that they will feel better than they do right now and that they have to just keep living until they feel alive again.
People who have experienced a deep loss know that in the beginning the best you can do is to get up in the morning, and put one foot in front of the other and make it through the day. It's a sleepwalk, at least it was for me. There's no timeline for this period. Everyone grieves differently, whether it's a month, six months, two years or twelve. But at some point, something shifts inside of you, and you begin to feel alive again. You begin to experience joy. This doesn't mean that you won't continue to miss your loved one dearly. This doesn't mean that you won't still be hit by those waves of grief that wash over you from out of the blue. No I believe we carry that loss with us always. It's the price we pay for having loved someone so much. But eventually, a shift occurs and we feel alive again and ready to reclaim our new lives. For there's no doubt that we are forever changed by our experience. We don't get back our old life, but instead lay claim to a new life where the loss has been woven into the very fabric of our being and we're filled with gratitude for having had that person in our lives.
This is absolutely beautiful Robin! What a gift to read it while I'm on the Way. 6 more days to Santiago! See u in JuneReplyDelete
What a treat to know that you are reading this as you walk the Camino del Santiago! I can't wait to see you when you get back. I know that you understand better than many what creating a new life is like. Safe travels my friend.Delete
I resonate with this post so much...As a matter of fact, yesterday, my nephew, Scott (son of Chuck) and his wife Annabel gave birth to what would have been my brother's first grandchild, Amelia (aka Millie). Once she safely emerged from the womb and I received her picture on my phone, I burst out in tears. The feelings were so mixed, yet ultimately joyful. I grieved a bit for my brother--knowing that he would have been elated about welcoming Millie to the world, but then so happy that Scott could have this precious child to nurture as his father did him. I am so grateful that Scott had a father that loved him so well, if only until he was 8 years old, because that love will be with Millie now. I am grateful that I am now "Great" Aunt Margaret and that life continues to break my heart everyday. I am grateful for YOUR friendship and the way that you continue to share your insights on the journey to "just keep living until you are alive again." Thank you, my friend. I love you.
What a poignant reminder that life does go on, Margaret. It gave me chills to read about little Millie entering this world. She is a lucky little girl to have you, Great Aunt Margaret, in her life. Thank you for sharing that with me (and let's catch up soon!!)Delete
Thank you Robin for this. I am still in the sleepwalking stage; I can't yet say when I might make it to the next phase. But as you say, I'll just "keep living until I am alive again." With your permission, I have shared it on my own blog.ReplyDelete
There's no timing for that sleepwalking stage. And, as you know, we are walking this path together. I'm just further along the journey. Take care (and yes, please feel free to share on your blog).
This is so true Robin and so helpful. I love that there is no expectation of when you will be "ok" again to meet, that there is no denial of the feeling of not being alive, just the tiny hope that one day you will again feel alive. I love this show as well because of the beauty within the darkness that is continually presented with wisdom. Thank you for being wiling to continue to see the brokenness and the grief in the world and treating it with such delicate respect and honesty. It is truly living to be present to all of these places in life we find ourselves and truly generous of you to continue to share your wisdom.ReplyDelete
Thank you Suzanne for your beautiful response. The resiliency of humans is simply quite amazing, isn't it?Delete
Thank you once again for helping those of us going through this grief. Shortly after we lost our son, a friend of mine who had also lost her son, told me that we would be ok. I thought at the time, how can you say this to us. Well, she knew herself that OK had been redefined, and that we would one day be alive again. I can not say that we are there yet, but one day at a time.
I look forward to your blog postings. Reading it feels like a warm wave washing over me. You are ahead of me in your grief journey, but you give me hope that one day we will be alive again.
Thank you Debbie. I am so sorry that you walk this path too. And yes, "ok" is definitely redefined. Take care, my friend.Delete
You posted this beautiful piece on my son's 2nd yahrzeit. I appreciate the hopefulness in it, as we currently feel as if we bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. The heaviness is so pervasive in all we do, but we do keep getting up each day and trying to do our best to carry on. I look forward to eventually experiencing the shift you describe.
The timeline is such an individual thing (as you well know). Thank you for writing. I've thought of you often these past few months. Hard to believe it's been two years since Graham passed. Hugs.
Beautifully said, and oh, so true. Thank you for posting this, Robin. I enjoy that show, too - it is so well written, deals honestly with themes which are not often explored on TV, and is set in a fascinating period of history. Hugs to you!ReplyDelete
Glad to hear you watch it too, Karen. Hugs back to you!ReplyDelete
Incredibly wise and beautiful, Robin. thank you for sharing it with us. I am going to share the link with my friend S who recently lost her nineteen year old daughter.ReplyDelete
I am the friend Elizabeth speaks of. That was lovely. It's just fake it til you make it. We are faking it.ReplyDelete
Elizabeth thank you for sharing with Maggie. Maggie, I am so very sorry for your loss. Feel free to email me if you'd like to talk further. We walk on this path together.ReplyDelete