Saturday, September 3, 2011

At the intersection of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love

“There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

It’s been 113 days since my mom suddenly passed away. Ever since she died, I’ve been the fortunate receiver of  countless messages, emails, letters, cards, texts, compassionate embraces and incredible outpouring of support in every form imaginable. And each time someone asked me, “How are you dear?” I had the urge to say, “How much time do you have? Because there is so much to say – about my amazing mom, about our love for reach other, about…” Fortunately, for those wonderful well-meaning people I pretty much limited myself to a plain “I am hanging in there. Thanks so much for your support”.
But all the while, I’ve been keeping a mental journal of all the things remaining to be said. The irony is that as much as I love to talk, I find that writing is much, MUCH better in situations like these. When your world crumbles, it’s what my mom used to call a “hurricane in your cup”: it’s invisible and incomprehensible to everyone else, but you are drowning, covered in sweat and tears, gasping for air, unable to find the edge of the cup to hang on to… Spoken words somehow cheapen the memory and make something profound seem ordinary and inconsequential. Perhaps, that’s why I couldn’t really give a proper eulogy at my mom’s funeral.

In the past few months, several people I know lost one of their parents… Even today, a friend of mine who lost her mom a few days ago asked me “Does it get better?” I told her “it gets…different”. Ancient wisdom teaches that if you come across suffering, it means you have the power to make a difference. I began to wonder, would it help someone else if I wrote about the past 113 days and what it's been like for me? After all, my blog is about my life as I know it. Could it help even one soul, also trying to grasp for the edge of the cup and learn to swim in the raging waters of their sadness? I am not sure. But I think it’s worth a shot.

They say, life is a journey. These days I am wandering through the streets of sorrow and joy, desperately trying to figure out how to navigate the narrow and perilous intersection of overwhelming grief and the unspeakable love. And here is what I am finding…
  • Step lightly and don’t expect too much of yourself. Just be. Moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day…Forgive yourself for the unwashed hair, unwashed dishes, for the missed calls, for not being graceful, for the messages left un-responded to, for the laundry not done...
  • Grief comes in waves. Love is a constant undercurrent. Never underestimate its power. Become its tireless messenger.
  • Concentrate on healing the little bits of yourself with the glue of silence…and do it as best as you know how.
  • Know that everything is possible. You are MUCH stronger than you think. When you believe that there is no imaginable force that could make you open your mouth and say to your 89 year-old grandfather that his only daughter died, somewhere from deep inside you, bigger and stronger you finds its calm voice and does the deed. And then you realize that impossible is truly nothing.
  • Be patient with people. They are trying…It is a very delicate process to say the right thing to someone who is grieving. When people ask you “How are you feeling dear?” or “Are things getting back to normal?” or “I hope you don’t miss your Mom too much?” - they mean well. They say it out of love for you. But because you are drowning in the hurricane of your own sorrow, you might have the urge to say something mean back, like “I feel like shit! I am not recovering from a flu…Things are never going to go back to normal”. And instead you smile politely and you say something more appropriate, “Hanging in there” or “as well as can be expected” and “I miss her very much and always will”.
  • When someone dies unexpectedly, it feels like a slap in the face. Like someone’s phone service suddenly got disconnected in the middle of a very important conversation and there is no way to get back to them. Without this “phone” connection, all that’s left is waiting until you see them again…
  • Losing your mom, no matter what age you are when it happens, makes you at least half an orphan. And it’s a hollow and lonely feeling.
  • The best antidote to grief is love. And it’s not the love you receive that makes you joyful, but the love you give. The positive energy and spirit your pour back into the world as a selfless offering.
  • When my mom died, it was almost 8 pm…and when we came outside, it was around 8:30. The harbor view was spectacular. The sun was saying good bye to Seattle and gently sliding behind the mountains. I said to my father “Look how beautiful. Mom is here. Mom is everywhere now”.  There is beauty in everything.
  • Having lost someone you love, especially you parent, doesn't make you an expert in the grieving process. But you do cross over to a new "reality" and become a “member” of a group that sees the world maybe a little bit differently.
  • Love, kids and nature are antidotes to grief. Pour yourself into something or someone living.
  • Martha Beck calls grieving for a loved one“clean pain” which, if you let it, can have regenerative and creative powers. I haven't experienced it yet, but I hope she is right.
  • “It” doesn’t get better. It gets different. But you have the potential of becoming a better person – more compassionate, kinder, and more understanding. And that’s something!
  • It’s okay to laugh again. In fact, it's as necessary as breathing.
And, one more thing, at the intersection of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love, sometimes a simple of act of writing helps.