Grief is the Space Between Memories Known and Unknown

“Now would be a good time to have end-of-life discussions with Donna,” the Hospice Rabbi said. “What does she want for her funeral? What are her regrets? Did she find joy in her life?”

Joy? I failed her. All I could do was think of that.

I hesitated for a day. Then next afternoon, alone in the room with Donna, I looked at her in the bed and said, “Donna, perhaps you want to talk about your funeral.”

She looked over at me and said, “Don’t be a maudlin pussy.” Then she rolled onto her side and fell asleep.

I smiled. That was the woman I married 28 years ago, life and death on her terms, her way, take no prisoners, with no doubt about what was needed. She was not dead yet.

This occurred about a week to ten days prior to Donna’s death. Yet my grief was an orchard in full bloom and thriving finding nourishment from the memories of our life together. It took seed when she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer two plus years earlier. After she died it sunk it roots deep and remains part of me. Many may see my grief as a failure to launch away from the pain. You know that entire finding closure meme which is denial said pretty. I will not deny my grief nor Donna.

There is more to grief. Let me defend grief, specifically defend my grief and hopefully your grief. Grief is life’s artesian aquifer. It flows from within, bored out of the loss of a loved one.It is part love and light. It holds promise to satisfyingly quench our loss. To sustain us.

Grief should not be seen as a proper place or an improper place. It is the space between memories of the past and hope for the future. Those are distant points on a compass that intersects within us. At times where it overlaps may be a soft and subtle or hard and painful. No matter it creates a newness within us offering a fresh look that what was, what is, and what may be. If choose not shy from it or ignore it can open up new memories and new understanding.

I have written about grief and will continue to. Grief has its own narrative arc and begins as thumping numbing recognizing that what once is is now was. It moves with us and becomes dullness. We need to take grief and partner with it, in a sense embrace its strength and aching to create new.

Maine Public has a piece by Patty Wight. ‘If It’s All About You, There’s No Reward:’ Coping with Grief by Helping Others

She relates the story of Floyd Hastings and the death of his wife. How Hastings like many of us who face the loss of a loved one sought to give back to those who helped us care for our loved one. I remembered the chemo lab nurses and hospice staff for years following Donna’s death. I have posted about Donna and podcast on grief and how I’ve managed it well and not so well. I am volunteering. All of this as a way to pay forward what I’ve learned.

That is what we do but more to my premiss, our grief is a light within us to guide us to a better understanding of what was, is, and will be. Below are some links to my podcasts on the topic and posts. But stay tuned more to come.

Podcast 39: The Organic Nature of Grief. An Observer Effect

Podcast 37: The Insipid Nature of Grief, The Horse Latitudes

Post: Domesticating the Feral Nature of Grief

Post: Inside Out a Compendium of Loss and Grief


Untangling The Memories of Grief and Loss: Podcast 038

My last podcast addressed the changing avatar of my grief and loss. How for years it was a daily presence yet recently I noted it became a part-time visitor. I remain hyper vigilant to applying what I read or learn into the context of this visitor. I hear a phrase or read a passage and I think about it in terms of my grief avatar and I wonder as I reflect, what have I learned? Am I missing today and tomorrow because my vision is in my rear view mirror? Can I untangle myself from looking back to construct a new environment for my emotions to reside?


The Arc of Loss, Mourning, Grief, and Release: Podcast 032

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

E.E. Cummings

It’s been three plus years since we lost you, I lost you. And six plus years since your diagnosis and treatment. Writing this now feels a day late and a dollar short. It’s not like in some way shape or form I haven’t been speaking with you, to you, about you. And I it will come as no surprise to you I am wearing my welcome out with friends on this topic, remembrances etc.

This letter/podcast is not a review of EOL HPM its just news about those who loved you and still do. You know like those annoying notes people include with their Xmas card.

Animating My Grief Like a Pixar Film

“Death doesn’t burden your life. It animates your life.” Stephen Jenkinson

Ever wonder if you are going to find peace or a place in life after a loss? Wonder when there will be resolution of the grief or sadness? If you are a reader or a follower you know I have been slapping the entire grief, loss, mourning puck around for a few years. Yet again this avatar is changing. 

Approaching the anniversary (August 7) of Donna’s death I have been harboring a sense that my writings and podcasts (here, here, here, and here) on grief and mourning are the boring ramblings of an old man lost in the struggle to find meaning as I limp toward my expiration date. And truthfully you three loyal readers have been kind and patient with me and this scratched record I play. I felt as if I was coming to the end of this, not because the grief has expired but because who gives a shit. But as with most reflection something appears in the periphery of life that reframes it all. Some new knowledge appears that adds to our consciousness and changes one’s outlook and opinion.

The August issue of Sun Magazine arrived this week. Each issue has an interview. The August interview was with Stephen Jenkinson. His recent book is “Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul” Jenkinson places death at the center of the page and asks us to behold it in all its painful beauty. Die Wise teaches the skills of dying, skills that have to be learned in the course of living deeply and well. Die Wise is for those who will fail to live forever.” He was also featured in the 2008 documentary Griefwalker. Jenkinson was the leader of a palliative care counseling team at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The title of the interview in Sun Magazine was As We Lay Dying.

The above is an overview of Jenkinson’s interview and his view of death and dying. There is much more in the interview that I believe illuminates his thoughts and speaks to the current emotional state I am trapped in. Can this be a solution to a problem I was having or is more about trying on different shoes to see which fit and look good? Am I sticking random solutions onto problems that I have when I should just walk away from all of this? Many or most of the three people who read this will readily agree with his premiss and Ideas. It seems Jenkinson’s ideas are being largely embraced by the fact there is more evidence that palliative care, hospice, good death, etc. All of this is becoming an accepted or at least understood norm. And these ideas and goals all work to improve death, dying, and survivors state of mind. I would argue that yes there is much happening and trending but it is only to a point because, we are an aging society and many are witnessing loved ones and friends deaths. Thus we know what is coming and what death brings so we are changing our attitudes toward death and dying. There still remains many who have not and even more who have suffered the loss of a loved one and have not benefited from the collective wisdom of those who have passed before us through loss and grief. I want to share briefly Jenkinson’s thoughts on this topic and relate them to my journey. 

Jenkinson says there exists a ‘grief illiteracy’ in our collective lives. Since we have moved from the farm and fields we have lost the understanding of death, its symbolism and the culture surrounding it. Today death is put off, fought, and kept at bay and when death is inevitable those who are dying are shuttered away or kept from the integration of their passing into the lives of the young and living. Jenkinson notes we as a society consider dying ‘a mountain of regret’. Death does not have its rightful place in our lives today. Dying is at the core of our lives it is a goal that offers all of us insight. 

“Grief is not sadness. There’s sadness in grief, but grief is not exhausted when the sadness goes away. And it does go away, because you can only drag yourself around and rend your clothes for so long. Sadness has a shelf life, but grief endures.”

“Your better self is born of grief. Grief is the amniotic fluid for your humanity. That’s how it works. the guilt will pass, but the grief will not, because it is composted into something much more life-loving–but not human-hating. There’s no hating, no resigning, no withdrawing or running or transcending. Stay here. Stay long enough that the grief can have its way with you, and you begin to realize that this grief is a wisdom, a recognition that human being are maintained by the death of other living things.”

I’ve said frequently Donna will never come back but I can go to her at any time. This is me not facing what I have or don’t have. After reading this interview and considering the idea that death offers us insight it struck me that perhaps what I am saying is that from Donna’s death I have come to look at my own death and inversely my life. This is not a huge insight as much as it’s a trimming of the sails. Perhaps what this interview is teaching me is that if I look and listen closely grief can tell me what I am not, not what I am. Being defined by something is different from being animated by it. Grief may allow me to find those tender places within me and my life that creates reflection and understanding. 

It has not been unicorns and rainbows. Not sure it ever will. I readily admit anger and sadness. I also will say that I have not given up trying to understand and accept my grief and sadness. I am reevaluating this whole exercise of grief and loss based on this interview. What I do need to consider is how my grief has animated my life. What are the lessons learned or moments understood. 

I have learned how to podcast. I am trying to write more and better. I’ve not given up on starting over. Pitching and trying new business ideas. I am even changing what I eat just because. But those behaviors are who I am and not really a true response to the grief. Not all that animated if they were part of me before. But the difference is that I am not kicking in doors to make it happen. My life feels glacial. This may be a function of age or is it that I am alone and the one person I respected, trusted, and who took no shit from me is not here to push me. I am not the same person I was. The edge is worn down. The blunt object I used to move forward and open doors is now a rolled up newspaper. That is an outcome from this exercise to admit I am not the same. And perhaps the measure of being animated by my grief is to recognize I’ve changed and to measure that change. To look and see what changes are worth keeping and those that need to be expunged? Do I retain that part of me connect to the joy I felt and continue to feel and become the person she saw me as. Is that animation of my grief? I’ve said Donna loved me into being and perhaps I have surrendered that being. WWDO (what would Donna Do)  I have been shedding parts of me in the darkness of the days and nights. And that is not animation. It is surrender. 

I would say with  20/20 hindsight the grief has animated my sense of loss which is new, a deeper understanding of Donna and what love is, the sincere wish I could share what I am learning and doing with others in the same state of shit. But blogging and social media are such self-centered exercises. It is a rush to get likes and RT where we have little time to dive into others. That is so fracking sour grapes. Ha! I have come to see my grief is less about my loss and more about what I was embrued with during our 30 years together and have not carried forward. I guess the next morphing of my grief avatar will be looking at who was I, who am I, and what do I bring with me as I move forward?