We are grieving.
Recently, we lost Don’s mother and father. They died sixty-five days apart and just missed celebrating their seventy-sixth-wedding anniversary. They had rich full lives. This was not a tragic loss. And yet their deaths have left holes in our hearts and lives.
Grieving is an art. Like any art it’s a skill that is attained by study, practice, and observation. We live in a death distancing culture. We have few examples of how to mourn. FDR was the last public figure to mourn openly. He wore a black armband for six months to honor his mother’s death. Six months was the prescribed amount of time in the 1940’s. We are now expected to bounce back — immediately. Armbands let others know of the loss and was a reminder to the bereaved person to be easy with themselves. We have lost rituals and ceremonies that help us navigate these times.
I have grieved: for people, for both of my parents, for places, our mountain home in Ouray and for pets, Patches our beloved Basset Hound. Each time, in different ways, I cried tears of appreciation. At times, I thought I’d never stop crying.
Loss does that.
And though grief visits us throughout our lives, in big and little ways, we are not taught much about how to embrace it. How do you sit with it? How do we let it open us? Grief can swallow you. It can render you motionless. We must find practices, places and people that can sit with us and our sadness. Meditation. Journaling. Sharing. These are all ways that can be helpful.
All of us will someday say goodbye to those we love. Knowing this makes every moment with Don ever more precious. We do not know how many days we have with each other. In early mornings, when we lay in a nest of crumpled sheets, our warm hands reach out to each other and that thought crosses my mind. Death’s inevitability has deepened the sweetness of my love for him.
Death is our teacher according the to Zen Hospice Project co-founder Frank Ostaseski. He explores this idea in The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. He writes, “Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight. She helps us to discover what matters most.”
How do we sip the nectar of these tender times? My feelings tell me to sit and feel my sadness. They want me to slow down and acknowledge this passing. Two people I have come to love in the messy human ways families connect are gone.
I do not wish loss upon you. Loss will come. And it has likely already landed on your doorstep. What I do wish for you is that when it does come, you open your heart to its teachings.
Stay aware of the preciousness of life.