Good Grief!

Grief is a river
Constantly flowing, flowing...

Connecting all hearts.

These last few days, grief had been my visitor. And yes, I welcomed them. 

First there was mom's worsening dementia which I witnessed in person when I visited the Bay Area for Thanksgiving. The process of going through end-of-life decisions (where does she live, who will take care of her) took me to a wild spin. Not mentioning... grief.

Then, I went to Memphis to co-lead a workshop involving my book with the other authors of the series Active Prayer. There I heard soul music, visited Graceland where Elvis Lives, and for meditation, I walked the Mississippi River and listened to Old Man River himself. There I saw the Memphis poor and their chronically homeless folks. But this town also showed me soul. They are tender, loving people who live through music and art and food and each other's company. Yes, there is crime. But is that surprising in a poor town?

Then I get an email from a dear friend who is scared because this is the first time in her life she is wondering how she's going to pay for her next month's bills. And last night, a yoga friend whom I haven't seen for 9 years, asked me to jon him for dinner at a pancake house. There he told me the story of how her wife passed away a few days back. He showed me the tattoos she created on his body. Fantastic tattoo artist. I wish I knew her when she was still active. I've been thinking about having a tattoo. 

Grief followed me, called me, emailed me, talked with me, looked at me with teary eyes, and once or twice, with old, tired, blank eyes. I welcomed her to sit by me. I settled myself down to listen. That's the least one can do when one knows not what to do... stay out of the way.

So today, I sat down for meditation. Tears poured. For my mom, for the poor of Memphis, for my economically challenged friend, for my widowed friend. And for all who is suffering in one way or the other. For those in pain, I inhaled the heat of their tears, the shortness of their breaths, the tightness of their hearts. And I breathed out space, light, hugs, smiles. And I chanted "The Lord is my light and my salvation... of whom shall I be afraid" over and over again.

How about you? What is your relationship with grief? Do you try to get busy when grief comes visiting? Or do you pause, sit down, and listen to her stories?


GretaCargo said...

Why do you hold onto your grief so tightly?

It was February nearly 8 years ago, and I returned to Naropa for a weekend of reflection on the first anniversary of my husband’s sudden death.

I don’t remember what the weekend was to reveal to me, but I returned there in memory of significant insight only several years before when Charlotte Joko Beck visited Boulder. During that weekend as she compelled us to gaze intently to those whose hands we held, I peered into my husband’s eyes and found painful truth.

Alone with hundreds of strangers, my knees joined my heart in protest after repeated sittings. I hadn’t prepared my body or my spirit for this obligation and became angry. There was no connection anywhere in these halls, and the senseless loss of the impending divorce as the unknown precursor to his death returned. I was there to find greater understanding. Instead the faces around me held beatific poses of Zen calm which only made me angrier.

I left campus for takeout lunch and forced myself to return for the last session in the big room to hear Naropa’s appointed World Wisdom Chair, Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi.

Another sitting and before reconvening to hear Roshi, we filed around in kinhin through the stairwell and connecting halls from the old house to the big room. Sailing through the vaulted spaces was the haunting voice of Joan Baez singing Diamonds and Rust. (Was this real or a loud recording? To this day, I don’t know.)

Roshi’s talk made no sense, and I remember my heart pounding as I risked a question about grief (thinking I’m here to deal with this!) and feeling like a remote island in the sea of discussion. I can’t remember my question, but vividly remember his response as we locked eyes, his piercing and black from the stage across the room, an auspicious petite frame in lotus position under heavy robes. “Why do you hold onto your grief so tightly?” he admonished. His voice grew kind as he added comments about the difficulty of grief, and again my mind was lost and disconnected during the remaining discussion.

But my anger was disarmed.

We walked out in the sun behind the campus as snow melted and warmed us inspite of the winter day. I went toward a short-haired woman sitting at a picnic table.

“Thank you for asking what you did. It was the only thing that made sense to me this whole time.” She too was there because of the senselessness of her son’s suicide during her silent retreat at a Newfoundland abbey. We shared that horrible bond of the phone call, the disbelief, the shock.

That July, I felt myself pale reading the Denver Rocky Mountain News:

Zen master Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi, a teacher at Naropa University in Boulder, drowned Friday while trying save his 5-year-old daughter from drowning in a pond in Switzerland.
The 64-year-old man waded into the pond while wearing a heavy jacket after spotting his 5-year-old daughter, Maya, struggling. Both died.

He left a young family and wife behind.

Hands are gnarled and stiff from grasping so tightly. Yet each passing day, week, month, year reveals a moment where you stop and realize that grief has slipped away, even for just a little bit, while you were living. And to return to that old place is somehow awkward. And guilt enters because aren’t we supposed to keep hurting out of respect?

Why do you hold on so tightly?

Roy said...

Thank you, Greta, for this amazing comment! So much teaching here. Shades of Joko Beck.

Beth Knight said...

My dear friend Macrina Weiderkehr OSB left a impression on me four years ago when she said "I tell grief, you may visit in the guest room... and I will sit with you and be hospitable... but you cannot take over the whole house."

During that same time frame grief tested me. I took her swimming with me daily and each lap was a prayer. A body prayer in the swimming pool !

There is so much we can do to let grief shape, form and teach us.

Thank you for this blog post. I pray that next time grief visits me I will be held in the arms of Spirit and will remember some of this wisdom.

Peace - Beth K

Roy said...

Thank you, Beth, for sharing your experience with grief. That is one way of taking care of ourselves when we are grieving... share. Thanks for the honor.