Monday, April 26, 2010

The Back Room

W.H. Auden ended a stanza in his poem Stop all the Clocks
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong., with this line:

said in a series on bereavement that she wrote for The Slate:
"Loss doesn't feel redeemable. But for me one consoling aspect is the recognition that, in this at least, none of us is different from anyone else: We all lose loved ones; we all face our own death. And loss, strangely, can attune you to what is beautiful about existence even as it wounds you with what is awful. You live with a new sense of what the Victorian critic Walter Pater once called "the splendour of our experience and … its awful brevity," too.

Michael Kelly Blanchard wrote a song entitled Love Lives On from an album by the same name. The message he sings to us is a strong counter to the despair that grows out of any loss that feels like a part of our very self has been amputated. "Hope set, a faded wreath..history seems a myth only mocking our belief...bracing for goodbye, praying for relief, suffering and sighs...yet, to our surprise Love Lives On."
I have a room within where I have stored loss over the years. The door is open now...most of the time... and the light is on, but, I think I have neglected this space and need to be intentional about going through what is there. For years it was more a chasm buried deep and the contents sealed off from my conscience. As a child, I was unable to process the grief I felt as a result of the periodic bouts of depression and hospitalization that took my mother from me. Then when she died before I had a chance to start to understand her life's battle, I slammed the door shut and sealed it with all the anger of my 17 years. 

When the time was right, through the power of forgiveness, grace, and mercy, the seal was broken and the hot lava of that ancient grief was released. The story of how that happened awaits another time. The results of the release from and redemption and transformation of that room within is what I write of today.

Here, after my father's death, I have entered my grief room. It is familiar. I have been here before. Knowing, understanding in part, and therefore, not being caught by surprise by the strong affects of grief, has made it increasingly possible to allow grief to be a part of my living. Though I know that grief will not kill me, it is nonetheless messy and sticky and weighty to work with. My instinct is to fight back and so I have to tell myself to not be afraid.

I cannot say I have ever welcomed grief. I confess that my response to the "gut wrenching" demands of grief usually has been cause for concern to those who have had to watch, but, I have learned that I cannot deny it its rightful place. There is an ongoing metamorphosis of my soul that is and has been taking place and so, I try to keep the door open to that room so that the cleansing breath of life can flow through and remind me that love lives on.

Just recently, I spent a day with a close friend. We walked and browsed antique shops and talked about our lives and our losses. As we continued the discussion over lunch, the tears came to her eyes quickly when she shared the story of sitting with her father through the night as she waited for death to take him. Later, she turned in the middle of a store and asked if I thought she was different now. I understood what she was asking, as I too, know I am different. I said she was freer now. There was an understanding between us that grief had in some mysterious way set us free.  The conversation reminded me afresh that grief is unique to each of us yet at the very same time it is universal. My room of grief is really not that much different than hers.

Grief in its various expressions is experienced as I ride the waves to a place where my father's presence in my everyday life is no longer normal. Fortunately, the ride is not complicated. We had a wonderful relationship rooted in simplicity and acceptance. He lived 89 years. All who knew him say it was a good life. There was nothing for me to work out or get right before he died. But, the loss I feel is not diminished by that fact. I am now an orphan without a mother or father. My life has been altered. It will never be the same.

And to make things a bit more intense, this loss has taken me into that backroom where I also remember the times when grief seemed like a cruel taskmaster. I remember losses that seemed to own me and made me wonder if I would ever feel "normal" again. The overwhelming crash of despair seemed at times to be endless. And even now the variegated tastes of regret are triggered and the pain I felt is more than a memory. All of the grief I have known has become a part of me. It has marked me, colored me, molded me, taught me, transformed me, and it has set me free. By grace and through faith, I can say love lives on and therefore so do I.

So, what has grief taught me?

That I have loved fiercely. One does not grieve if one does not love.

Even though I let the past be the past and things have changed drastically through each loss it does not mean that love and grief do not remain. Together, side by side, love and grief, joy and sorrow blend to make real the whole picture of humanity.

My grief helps me remember what was worth preserving while slowly moving me forward to what comes next.

Grief is the means by which I am able to experience new birth after a profound and shattering loss.
Grief turns me, and forces me to confront the reality that this is not heaven. This is an in between place. But, in the end, love lives on.
Grief is the vehicle through the valley of the shadow of death. The valley is to be traversed. It is not our dwelling place.

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