Is there a “way” to grieve? Is our grieving influenced by what we think grieving should be? Are “stages” of grief true or even necessary?
I have been noticing the process of grief within myself since my father died, and actually, the sadness and feelings of loss started even before he died.
This process has not been what I expected, although I’m not sure I was actively expecting anything at all. I guess it’s not been what I expected given the way our society generally portrays grief.
A few days ago, a dear friend called to express condolences and we began a conversation about all of this. He suggested to me that my thoughts might be helpful to others who are dealing with grief. At first I thought, “Oh, it’s too early to put anything up about Dad’s death,” (he passed May 3) but then I realized that it didn’t feel wrong to me to do so … It felt wrong because of what “people might think.”
This ignited in me a sort of rebellious reaction to what I now see as societal thoughts and mores around grief. And so, I have decided to go ahead and post (!)
… My hope is that these reflections might help others who have perhaps come to find their grief unbearable and stifling.
Notes on Grief
Especially, somehow, over these last weeks, I have noticed the deep logic of Thought—of those Principles, Mind, Consciousness and Thought at work—as different flavors of “grief” wash over me.
I am discovering that, at least for me, to “grieve” … to experience the death of someone close, is much more varied than what I imagined. I am not experiencing “stages,” I am experiencing various thoughts, and the feelings that accompany them. My Stepmom, and Dad’s new widow, has been calling these “waves” or “surges.”
The thought: “I am so grateful to have had such a Father” brings with it its own set of feelings that are sometimes tearful, but also rich, and life affirming. I can well up with gratitude, and feel so very, very lucky.
The thought: “I will never do x, y or z with Dad again” brings the flood of “loss,” and even then, interesting to note, these thoughts are not actually related to the present moment, but to an imagined, or projected future, an imagined scene without Dad in it.
The thought: “I wish I had never done that/said that to him,” and the pain of regret slices through me.
The thoughts: “I am so glad I had a chance to do that/say that to him. To help him [in some way] … to be there for his dying,” bring the feelings of satisfaction, and gratitude again.
The thought: “He is gone now!” Bereavement. Something close to anguish.
The thought: “He will always be with me; he is in my soul, now, even in my very cells” and I feel Whole, I feel the sacred connectedness of life, of two souls who did love one another, and the eternal fruit of such love.
I went walking through the park, alone, late in the evening on the day of my father’s death. The clouds were closing up on lighter areas of the sky, in the west, where the sun had gone down. So there were silvers, grays, blacks, a background luminosity to the sky before the darkness of night. And I started to cry, thinking of Dad. I cried for some time, but it was not a crying I needed to stop, or even be comforted about. The crying was rooted in my love for Dad—I was crying over the beauty of the sky, the beauty of Relationship, the sacred passing of a Soul. It was sadness and joy all mixed together.
Later that night, I got a call from a dear, old friend. She was crying a “hard” kind of crying, it seemed. She told me she was angry about cancer. Several friends or people she knew had died from it. I shared with her that although I had been crying a lot that day, there was a safety in my crying, and that safety came from a kind of rootedness in Love. Like, yes, I could cry and mourn and be bereaved, but when I settled into the underlying current of Love there, I was safe within all of these emotions. I could allow them to come … and also, just as importantly, to go.
I must admit, there are times even now, with the death so recent, when I am not thinking of my father or his death at all!
When I go out in public, or get on the phone, people ask me:
“How are you?”
And they tell me,
“I’m so sorry … “
And these are, of course, common and appropriate comments from well wishers.
However, I can certainly say that there are times when I have been completely fine, good, even. Sometimes, I feel a great joy and freedom that seems related to the freedom of spirit I imagine for Dad now. There is also a new freedom in my life that is directly connected to his passing.
And when someone asks me, “How are you? … I am so sorry,” I remember that I am “supposed” to feel a certain way, as a member of this society (“death” is a bad thing) and so I try to look somber and tell the only truth I can in that moment without seeming to be disrespectful, or an unloving daughter: “Oh well, you know, I am up and down.” True enough.
There were so many aspects of my father’s death that were actually positive and uplifting. I shared this with another dear, old friend who called during my father’s dying, and she said, “Well, we can intellectualize it, or spiritualize it, but it is still difficult.”
I know my friend was simply trying to help me access my “real” feelings—to "let them out," as we say. And in many cases, this may be necessary. But truly, in that moment when she asked, the dying did not feel difficult. I want to honor that truth for me. Death and dying do not have to be difficult. They often are, but they don’t have to be.
Essentially, what I have discovered is that there is no one way to grieve. There are no rules. We get many ideas about death and grieving from society “out there.” The truest Truth for me, however, is always what I experience through direct observation: I have a thought, I have a feeling. I have sad moments, I have grateful moments, I have regretful moments, I have feelings of deep love and peace.
At times, I am overcome with an emotion, a feeling of flatness or sadness, without being able to identify any underlying thought. I accept this as just another current of feeling. I know Thought is there, perhaps subconscious, but I do not need to dig it up and find it. Eventually, this too shall pass.
For my Dad’s wife, in particular, I understand that there is “breaking up of a shared energy field” in the home, in the space (I got this phrase from the book, “The Light of Discovery” by Toni Packer, in her chapter on Grieving). That field must feel broken, a part of it gone, in the entire shared life, and that must feel like a giant vacuum at first. There are habits and activities that were always undertaken with “the Other.” There were perhaps future plans and dreams.
Unlike my Father’s death, which was, I suppose, “expected,” others die suddenly, younger, their deaths fly in the face of all reason, logic and expectation. Perhaps there has been a suicide. I can see how this kind of death would bring up all sorts of intense thoughts and reactions.
At the same time, I am sure that gentle, grateful, hopeful, connected thoughts are still available to survivors … in all cases. There is still the capacity to focus on what was learned and gained from the relationship, what still exists for us, how that person does indeed live forever within us. There is still the capacity to reach for and achieve forgiveness for oneself and for the One who has passed. It is never too late for love.
I read a quote in one book from a family member/survivor, who said, “They are in my DNA!”
Beneath all our thoughts of pain, of the future, of regret, guilt or loneliness, lies the deep, quiet, eternal Love for the Other … the true Relationship that cannot be lost. This Love has no capacity to hurt, it can only heal.
Can we give ourselves permission to go deeply into this Love and begin to understand that we have truly lost nothing?
The great beauty of my Father, Roger Clark Mills (now resting in peace), is that he shared with me the most valuable thing on this great planet earth—-peace of mind.
For the first two weeks after his death, I had a hard time “motivating,” getting anything done. I was tired, I was sad, depressed, whatever. Then, I had a moment in my backyard. The sun was out, the grass had just been cut. Bees were buzzing, and I finally took the time to just sit down in a lawn chair.
Looking out on the scene, my mind became still. It was then that I felt him ... Dad. This was the space he so cherished, and a space we often shared. This was his greatest gift to me, to know what is valuable and real in this mixed up world—-peace of mind.
Within peace of mind, we can feel grateful for anything. Within peace of mind, we come into what all Loved Ones truly want for us after their passing. And somehow, within peace of mind, we share in an energy that includes them still.
Your Mystical Mama