Reach: Finding The Light Of Grief.
I am beginning to learn that the reach of grief stretches far.
It has now been a little over two months since my brother passed away, and my days have become vivid lessons in what is means to be human, what it means to love, and what it means to undergo an emotional, mental and spiritual journey of loss and heartache.
Some days feel so dark that I find myself composing letters to Life that go something like this: Dear Life. You can be so horrible sometimes. Fuck you!
Other days, the light breaks through in unexpected patterns of grace, and I find myself writing different kinds of words: Dear Life. You can be so beautiful sometimes. Love you!
For the record, though the former feels pettily satisfying to write, ultimately I believe the latter is a better approach. Love is always the answer, as its message of hope cannot help but transform a space when it’s allowed entrance.
Believing that, however, still does not circumvent the process of feeling the anguishing stuff of life.
To grieve is to know anguish, and anguish lingers. Like an initial head cold that drops down into your chest and settles in for a long, raspy, reoccurring bout of bronchitis, I have come to realize how deep and long is the reach of grief, and how much my chest and guts and cells are still struggling to find clean, clear breaths in its presence.
I have also come to realize over these weeks how much we, as a culture, have little idea on what to do with loss and grief. People often look to the one grieving to take the lead, to tell them when they’re better, to give them directions on what’s okay to say.
I watch people struggle to know what to say to me, often avoiding the topic altogether for fear of somehow making it worse.
I finally told a group of friends: Look, everybody is afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they say nothing. Let me set the record straight — there is nothing you can say that is going to make this more wrong. Nothing you can do that is somehow going to make this worse.
What’s wrong and worse for me, or for anyone who has loss, is that the person they love is gone. You can’t make that worse more worse by an honest expression of care. Bringing it up isn’t going to break them. It’s probably going to help them.
I have wondered how many other people have suffered a tragic loss and found silence from people where solace should be… have had the experience of people not asking them how they are doing, of tiptoeing around the topic, of only talking about surface things, because they assume you don’t want to talk about it or they are uncomfortable with the topic themselves or they don’t want to make you sad.
Except you are sad. And you do want to — need to — talk about it. Your loss came with such glaring magnitude that it left gaping breaks in the fault lines of your heart, and pretending like those don’t exist feels so disingenuous that it makes it worse.
I want to tell people that it’s okay to ask me. It’s okay if I’m sad. It’s okay if you don’t have the right words or don’t know what to say or do — I don’t expect you to.
It’s just that most of the time I don’t have the energy to tell you all this, because I’m reaching with all my might, trying to claw my way through the pain. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need to know that somebody else is willing to be present and reach with me for a while.
Somewhere along the way our culture has developed serious misconceptions on how life should look, that limit the way we relate to ourselves, and limit our ability to support one another in authentic ways.
Problems, hardships, and tragedies often get minimized and reduced to something that needs to be cheered up, contained or fixed, when often these are the very ingredients that provide a gateway for growth of the heart, spirit and soul.
Life wasn’t meant to be lived as a linear ideal where we live in perpetual states of positivity, good mood, and curative thinking. Life was meant to be lived as a whole.
We have emotions so we can experience the entire spectrum of feelings. Acknowledging both the dark and light is what it means to be human. Integrating the beautiful and the horrible and finding the lessons that come from both is at the core of being whole.
We make mistakes so we can learn. Good things can come from what seemed bad. Bad things can comes from what seemed good. We learn from both, and through those lessons, experience becomes our teacher of truth, and self-knowledge our teacher of authenticity.
Loss is a profound teacher, and it is part of the whole of life. It is important for us to learn to be present with our self and with others in the face of grief and loss. There are tremendous lessons of growth that can be found in such a space.
Like how the essence of love keeps no score, giving of itself graciously and freely. Like how any offering of kindness, empathy and compassion towards one another is a healing balm for the ruptures that have formed in the cracked foundation of this world.
Like the sense of grace and acceptance that can come when you realize you are doing the best you can with horrible circumstances. It helps you realize that the same holds true for others — we are all just doing the best we can on any given day.
Our job isn’t to judge our process, but to embody our lives even when we find ourselves in hard places.
Many days I wake up, and I don’t like the place I find myself. While I know life won’t always be here, it is here now, and I know I choose to show up for myself and be present with my experiences. I choose to embody this strange space of grief that has already irrevocably changed and continues to transform me.
On the awful days, I try and practice radical self-compassion. It’s okay to feel what I feel, to hurt how I hurt, I’ll say. I try to let my soul curl into life, and allow myself to be supported by something bigger than myself. I have found that the world will hold you in a stasis of comfort if you let yourself be still.
And on the days where the sky breaks, where I feel my brother in the warmth of the sunshine, where I hear his voice among the shifting clouds and I see faint hopeful traces of the pattern that is composing the threads of my days…
… on those days, I lift my chin up to the light, stretch my arms out to the sky. And I reach.
BethAnne Kapansky Wright is a Clinical Psychologist finding joy and light from her tiny corner of Anchorage, Alaska. She writes poetry and personal essays and enjoys photography and creating whimsical art. She can often be found on top of the nearest mountain or running through the trails in her beloved woods. She is the author of the poetry chapbook ‘The Art of Becoming’, and is inspired by nature, love, her awesome husband and fur family, and the beautiful journey of becoming more fully human. She can be found blogging tidbits and snippets of poetry and other random thoughts on her website.