Hey, don’t cry, honey. It’s not so bad. Really, everything will work out for the best. You’ll see.
Is she batshit crazy? I’m dying here, drowning in grief, weeping right in front of her and she’s telling me it’s not so bad?
I’m sad. I’m sorrowing. I’m grieving.
I miss my father, I finally say.
Really? When did he die?
Er….when I was twelve years old
Wait. You’re telling me he died like a million years ago and that’s why you’re crying?
Haven’t you cried enough? Aren’t you just a little bit ashamed of yourself carrying grief around like a baby blanket, curled up in the corner boo hooing? Get a grip, darling. It’s over. Buck up. Man up. Balls up. Grow up.
Get over it. Move on.
Just kidding, I want to say, fast, to swat away the heavy fog of shame that is settling over me.
Honestly, I say, I barely remember him. So how are you?
Listen. Here’s the thing about grief. It does not go quietly into the land of the grey havens, retire, catch a flight to a tropical island, open a beach chair, order mai tais and say now, now it’s over, we have wept, gnashed our teeth, pulled our hair, fallen weak on the floor begging for relief, for death. I wish I could say that’s how it goes. That one day grief will be gone, tied up with a blue satin ribbon like a bundle of old letters stored in a shoe box in the back of your closet because listen. One day a stranger wearing the perfume your mother wore will rip a hole straight through your heart, or you’ll see a man in the produce aisle of the grocery store who looks like your husband, dead five years, and the foundation will rock, the shelves will tilt, porcelain teacups will shatter, mirrors crack and that pack of letters? That neat pile of grief you tucked away comes tumbling down, spilling over your freshly swept floors, moaning the way a sound that has been kept in captivity too long moans.
There is nowhere to tuck sorrow where she doesn’t start crying so loud you have to stop what you’re doing and go investigate.
You left me in this closet, she weeps when you open the door. You don’t love me.
Well, um, of course I do. I was just trying to get a few things done around the house.
You were trying to forget about me.
Well, not exactly. Sort of.
But when I finally take her in my arms and tuck a damp strand of hair behind her ear, wipe her tears with the hem of my tee shirt, I see that she’s really quite beautiful. Not at all the ugly child I was ashamed of. She has a peace and serenity about her I had not noticed before. Her presence quiets the rush of anxiety in me, the always in motion need to keep the floors swept, the dishes washed, the mirrors windexed.
She slows me down, and in the next deep breath that opens my lungs and the secret door to my heart, she slips in and smiles.
Mind if I stay here for a while? I promise I won’t hurt you.
What can I say. I let her stay. Sometimes when she needs my attention…the anniversary of my father’s death, the babies lost to miscarriage, the year my daughter left home, I stop the endless busyness and sit with her, light candles, pick a bouquet of wild flowers, feed the crows.
And then I am still enough to feel the presence of the ancestors, the ones who carried their grief over mountains and across frozen rivers to reach me. The old ones who watched armies torch their homes and floods wash away all that they had cultivated, the ancient ones who sent children to safety over oceans before the Cossacks came, who hid in barns and in basements, who forged false papers, who faced the rapist, the barrel of the gun, and said my child, these stories need telling and retelling.
This is the story of our grief as we perished, they say, but this is also the story of the life we cherished, of how we have waited for you so that your life might honor our tears and bloom from the ash and bone of our sacrifice.
Now, they say, open your heart and let the songs of mercy and forgiveness, of sorrow and joy harmonize. Welcome the blackbird and the coyote who sit at your feet while you chant the holy names of life passed down through centuries on the lips of the peacekeepers. Let the music echo in the canyons so that the harmonies of yes and no weave together to sound the chord of always.
Your tears will fill the dry river beds and your weeping will shake the ripe fruit from the trees. If grief did not stretch your heart to welcome your own sorrow how could you bear witness to the beautiful and terrible fellowship that comes with suffering? How could you hold the news of floods and drought, of punishing winds and melting ice caps if you could not extend mercy to your own earthquakes of despair and loss?
Blessed are wounded for when our wounds cease to be a source of shame we become the wounded healers.
Where else but in the chambers of the broken hearted will we find the grace to dance with light and shadow. Who else but the grieving are wise enough to crack open the grief and joy of the world and feast at the table of love.