So it’s true,
when all is said and done,
grief is the price we pay for love.
Late last week I was leading a virtual workshop and young lady raised her hand and asked a question about grief–after I mentioned my mother’s passing. She told the class her brother passed away earlier this year. And she was wondering how I navigated grief in my life and career. What advice I might offer to keep moving forward. I expressed my sympathy for her loss and thanked her for her courage to be vulnerable. I tried to explain that grief is unique and personal, and we all grieve differently. My mother lived a long and glorious life. Other deaths are ambiguous and sudden. No grief can be compared. She became emotional and turned off her camera. I tried to explain that grief is an integral part of love. She turned her camera back on, composing herself. I told her to try to remember who he was and the memories she will always have. And think about what her brother would want her to be doing now. “Grieve him but consider what his expectations of you might be.”
Are we grieving what we lost more than what the person we grieve has lost? I have tried to be more attuned to my expectations of others life expectancies. “You must live longer for me.” “You should have lived longer for me.” What a crazy ego trip.
Grief is deeply interwoven into our life path. As we mature, we understand our own mortality and the mortality of everything around us. As we accept these lessons, we hopefully savor and cherish the brevity of life.
Our 16th President was so thoughtful in comforting a grieving young lady:
In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your loved one, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.
Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.
Your sincere friend
Abraham Lincoln December 23, 1862
Grief is never just an occasional visitor. It cannot be cured, and it does not go away. Grief is a permanent resident of the mind and heart of those who choose to love. Who choose to be vulnerable. Who take the chance to lose. Who choose unconditional love.
Everyone who loves us changes us. Everyone we love changes them. Love changes the world.
There’s an old African (perhaps Senegalese) proverb:
When someone dies, their library is burned.
Volumes we will never know and cannot appreciate. We have read some of their books, been treated to some of their stories, gained from some of their knowledge, and what we have learned have changed our personal library in unfathomable ways. These are not just libraries of facts, but libraries of music, art, and poetry. In some small and profound way, they shared their verses, their harmonies and their images with us forever changing us. Libraries burn but are never completely lost. Libraries evolve.
This notion of loss can be so selfish. And yet we know from the laws of Thermodynamics: that energy is never lost. It just goes into the giant flow of the universe of the infinite space of our destiny. Energy remains constant just transferring from one form to another. Ends are always part of new beginnings. Once we can embrace this notion that what and whom we have lost is part of our present world we can be energized. How our libraries are richer. And then we can be struck by the great sense of obligation and duty to share these greater harmonies, poetry, and literature with the people we love and are yet to love.
Time does heal. And all living things are wired to heal. So we must allow the healing.
Fear of being hurt, hurts us.
Your heart sometimes needs to break, to break open.
The price of grief is high. But this is the power of love over loss.
When we grieve, we know we loved and even that we were loved.
That is the pinnacle of life. To love and be loved.
Let us accept our grief as a great reminder of our capacity to love. Real genuine grief that is centered on love and on our loved one will generate a great wake of gratitude and inspiration to energize our own journeys of learning to love and to be loved.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
The Summer Day (excerpt) Mary Oliver