Hearing grief

A few months ago I wrote about a girl who had told me her story, a heartbreaking one.  She had just lost her sister and was beginning down the dark, cold and unknown road of grief.

I have yet to meet a person who aspires to embark upon this road when great loss or pain comes, and none who have been able to escape it.

Not for long anyway.

As much as I wish this were not the case, I’m afraid it must be.  If only there were some secret stairway to a mended heart without the vicious pain it takes to get there.

If you find one, do let me know.

Since our first conversation, I’ve met with this dear girl on a number of occasions upon her request, the last of which was in the corner of a coffee shop somewhere that delighted in playing mellow music rather loudly.

On a side-note, blasting mellow music can have a rather intriguing effect upon one’s state of mind, you know.  It is something of a paradox.  In this particular case, it simply made it easier to talk about things one might never wish to speak of at all, though I’m not exactly sure why.   Perhaps it is easier to speak pain when it does not fall upon quiet air.

In any case, as we sat at the table I listened to the distress and sorrow in her eyes and watched her stare into her coffee as if she had surrendered to it.   So tired of the pain, so sick of longing to be with someone who could never be with her again in this world, she told me.  No longer able to find comfort in any thought or word or truth at the moment, for the further she stepped into tomorrow the more distant she fell from yesterday.

And yesterday, not tomorrow, was where her sister was.  At least, that is where she remembered her.

Heaven suddenly seemed so distant, so foreign, and somehow so terribly sad.  And how do you move forward, or even want to move forward in life when all you desire is behind you?

“No one says these things,” she told me, “nobody wants to hear my feelings of anger towards God for stealing my sister, and my sadness towards heaven for keeping her. These are not the ‘right’ things to feel, I know.”

She knew that God had the right to take her, and as much as she wished she felt differently today, the fact was, she didn’t.  Searching inside she found only wretched sentiment she felt ashamed to admit to anyone.  But it was the truth.

“I am so weary of all of this, shouldn’t I be over it by now?” she asked me.

I hardly think so.   But oh, how I understand that question.

As CS Lewis so rightly put it,  “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape…not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago.  That is when  you wonder whether the valley isn’t a circular trench.  But it isn’t.  There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn’t repeat”

We want to harness, control and manage grief because it hurts so damn much.   We just want it to end, and right when we think it’s done- bam.  We’re back on the floor.

As if it were a stagnant, still thing, we seek to destroy it, if only we could find it.  But like the wind, it’s not a moment but a process, and we just can’t know when it’s journey will be over.  It’s messy, exhausting and excruciating, allowing us just enough rest to catch our breath so we can survive it’s next wave.  We experience thoughts and sentiments along the way, most of which we (or others) may find distasteful, hopeless or even ‘incorrect’.

I don’t understand grief either, I told her, but I imagine we aren’t expected to entirely.  God can handle your travels, your longing to have her back, your anger, your confusion….maybe he even expects it.  Maybe we must grapple in the dirt and stare at the wretched absence of those we’ve lost on this earth before we can come to terms with their presence in heaven.

It’s natural to feel its unnaturalness, maybe for longer than we’d like.  The fact is, we’re still here, they’re not, and that breaks our hearts. There is hope, and an end to the journey, but forcing oneself to that end before actually getting there seems neither helpful nor reflective of reality.

Does grief have a time-table?  If it does, I’m convinced we can never know what it is before it’s over.  Perhaps we were never meant to.

By the end of our conversation I admitted that I had nothing to offer her, save the knowledge of my own limited understanding of what she must be experiencing, and that the existence of hope, though perhaps unseen at the moment, was quite real.  I asked if she’d let me carry it for her awhile, reminding her that hope was indeed, somewhere and not floating around in an abstract cloud of someone’s word. She didn’t have to pretend to know or understand that now,  the pain of today is not indicative of tomorrow.

Grief can certainly make us feel that way though.

(Part one of this story may be found here:  http://charliesbend.wordpress.com/2011/09    /21/understanding-by-knowing-you-dont/)

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