Sun Magazine had interview that struck a resonant chord with my writings on loss and grief. “The Geography of Sorrow” the interview is with Francis Weller a psychotherapist specializing in grief and sorrow. Below is one of many thoughts and ideas Weller shared on grief and one that summarizes my journey. And what my hope is a the same journey that others facing can learn as well.
“The Irish philosopher John O’Donohue had a concept he called the “reverence of approach.” He said, “When we approach [things] with reverence, great things decide to approach us.” What if, instead of trying to outmaneuver grief, we came to it with reverence? Grief is not a passive state you’re “getting through.” You must find a way to engage it, to sit with it, to mull it over.”
I have said that early on I was counseled by a dear friend not to ignore or hide from my grief but to embrace it and learn from it. To ‘engage’ with it. I have and will continue to. Yet I wonder if I am doing the real work or achieving the outcome of finding the joy in sorrow?
Weller discusses how grief has been for all of man’s time on earth a communal event to be shared with others in our communities and villages and tribes. That has changed, we now carry our grief in isolation defined in the word closure. People want us to find closure to our pain. I believe closure is indifference. Closure suffocates our reflection and growth. Our friends and family reminding us to move on to find a new place and being.
On the surface that is a goal to find that goal not holding the grief inside because it hardens to an unbearable sorrow and sadness. Weller points to transforming that grief into something of value for the community. I will add, making it something of value for yourself for your being and person.
The crux of Weller’s argument is a quote from Poet Kahlil Gibran, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” In our grief we can find not a way out of grief as much as find the message it holds for us, for our loss and that is the conflict that joy resides within grief.
We try to skip the hurt and find the happiness. To create a short cut to heaven without the hell. That is what Weller says about grief. We try or are forced to skip the hard work to embrace it and find that joy within. When going though hell don’t stop. This reminded me of something I read about Stephen Colbert saying, how he learned the value of failure, to learn from failure to later get it ‘perfectly right’. Failure is a bit harsh when considering grief and sorrow but we all know how when we fail, we feel lost and hurt. That is what our grief feels like, I am lost. It feels as if I’ve failed at life. I let Donna die which is hard when I see and read those survivor stories why couldn’t I’ve made that a story for her? Each post each reflection I learn and understand more. Or as told Allura told her daughter Kara Zor-El “There is no correct path in life. You will loose you way many times”
In Weller’s mind he looks at grief as something to be revered, something we should not run from but embrace. I like his thought that grief is not a passive state to travel though. It is to be embraced and learn from. Grief and loss teaches us about life and love. If we allow it to. Yet being allowed to in our current world where we are walled off and have lost the rituals and rite of passage is difficult. There are no villages and communities to aid us in our grief and sorrow. We do not have the village well to go to to cry out and share where the healing of time and place occurs. I am not denying the support of family and friends but consider the read “The Lonely Death of George Bell” and how many of us at a certain age are living alone.
I thought about this idea of the village who help us with our sorrow and grief. I thought about those who I was and am blessed to have around me who supported me, fed me, gave me comfort, and care. Yet I held to the company line, I am doing well. I remained stoic but, ever vigilant to the turmoil within in me. I was engaging with the grief and sorrow with writing and podcasting. I was reading and reflecting. That is how we learn through reflection on our experiences and the experiences of others. I thought that was part of my engagement with my grief. I read Olivia Laning’s “The Future of Loneliness” in The Guardian.
Laing wrote about how social media and the Internet was hailed as a new communal place. The well in the center of town. That was my belief. My writing and posting to Facebook and Twitter and all was to create those communal rituals of grief and sorrow. Laing’s article was not that at all. It was a discussion of how behind the screen we remain invisible. A place where we can filter our avatar in such a way as to project a perfection of who we are or want to be. The Internet through social media has become a place for shaming and scapegoating. She ends the article with this about film maker Oliver Laric:
“My own understanding of loneliness relied on a belief in solid, separate selves that he saw as hopelessly outmoded. In his worldview, everyone was perpetually slipping into each other, passing through ceaseless cycles of transformation; no longer separate, but interspersed. Perhaps he was right. We aren’t as solid as we once thought. We are embodied but we are also networks, living on inside machines and in other people’s heads; memories and data streams. We are being watched and we do not have control. We long for contact and it makes us afraid. But as long as we are still capable of feeling and expressing vulnerability, intimacy stands a chance.”
Is the reality of my writing and sharing my grief online not achieving the rite of passage the rituals of grief have afforded us for centuries? Am I still lost without any control nourishing myself on emotional scraps? Was I secretly afraid of crying out as I hide behind the screen cultivating my avatar of grief? Is the feral nature of grief and the work I am doing failing to achieve the revered nature of my engagement with it? I will continue to do the work.