Thursday, February 26, 2015

Grieving Well

Learning to grieve well in a grief phobic culture is challenging. My best friend from childhood died when we were both 35 years old. She trusted me, as her long time friend, with the discussions around ending her own life. She had terminal ovarian cancer and had been whisked away from home to the ER a few times when her health became precarious. On one occasion I was with her when the doctor was pulling fluid from her lungs so Tia would not drown in her own secretions. The procedure was excruciating and Tia begged the doctor to stop. I think this particular doctor from Stanford was one of the most competent and compassionate I have ever know. But her training would not allow her to stop mid way through the process. I reached over and pinched the tube and told her to stop, to listen to Tia. Thankfully the doctor was respectful. And this experience is what propelled Tia into her own reconciliation with dying. We stayed up all night not long afterwards talking, laughing, reminiscing about our shared life together and wrestling through our religious upbringing which called suicide a sin. Tia came to the conclusion that she was not going to die in a crisis. She would die on her own terms, knowing death was inevitable and coming soon. The next night she ended her life after a very sweet time with each member of her family who did not know her plan.

For a time I was quite high from the very rarefied atmosphere of uncharacteristically vulnerable and transparent conversation Tia and I had shared over the months preceding her death. It was returning to my everyday life that felt as if I had come to another planet. It was business as usual with no place to really be with the fullness of all that I had experienced with Tia in life as well as her departure. Even the Memorial Service was contained, no one freely weeping. It is like we have this invisible agreement to hold it together, stiff upper lip and all. Everyone racing around doing what they always did and no forum for being with loss. So I slowly sank into depression and got lost in grief. It was a slow return to aliveness, a tale all in itself. But the key piece was learning to feel deeply and be safe with myself, to trust myself. Several new friendships came into my life at that time (did Tia orchestrate from the other side?) which had the capacity to allow the intensity of feelings I had to come out. To this day I credit those friends with holding the space for the grief to be safe and seen.

I have lost many dear people since that time. In these subsequent losses I have come to trust the process of feeling the depths and knowing I will return. Each one becomes easier to navigate.  Grief is no longer a stranger and I do not resist her gifts. Each loss has been traversed with the help of being witnessed and shared with others. I do not believe we are meant to grieve alone. Not that I feel the losses any less, no, maybe more.The death of my cousin has brought an entirely new dimension to grief. I find myself simultaneously in mourning with an easy return to laughter and noticing the delectable beauty of being alive. I have become fluid with the dance of emotions grief calls forth. When grief was new it was terrifying. It is hard territory to navigate.  The gifts are rare and totally worth the dive. Remembering how to be fully human and alive is what is at stake. Having the support of others is key. Finding those others who can allow the fullness is essential.

Thankfully there are now many more resources for being with grief than when I lost Tia. Francis Weller and Sobonfu Some are two I have recently learned about. They are worth seeking out if there is not support in your own life for feeling grief.

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