Sunday, October 25, 2009


Photo Credit: David Hawgood
I was talking to my grown daughter on the phone the other day. I told her that one of the unhappy things about getting older is that loss becomes just part of the scenery of life. I told her that I'd spent years of my life learning not to sweat the small stuff, the losses and frustrations that don't really matter, only to arrive at a time in my life that's filled with losses that do matter.

Live long enough, and loss, real loss, is inevitable, after all. We know it, but we live in the happy illusion in our youth that it is not so, that death and disease are the aberrations. Middle age knows they are the rule, and that soon or late they come for everyone we love.

But, I told her, there's an up side, too. The older I get, the better able to weather grief I seem to become. It turns out that in this, as in so many things, practice helps. Grief is a skill that grows better with use, if we dare to trust it--to feel it, acknowledge it, and keep walking.

I'm stronger now than I was at twenty, and I know it. I told my daughter so.

"Mom," she said, "Um... that's kind of dark."

I guess maybe it is.

Here's what I know:
I lost a friend this week. My good friend Abby has died, and I can't quite piece that knowledge together in my head. I don't get it, about death. Not yet. (I guess that means I'm still young enough that it does seem like an aberration to me after all.)

I understand grief, though. And watching Abby's wife Janet walk this valley is breaking my heart. No courage, no generosity of spirit, no warmth of heart takes away the pure, high, keening pain of Janet's loss. She speaks of it sometimes, bows down and weeps from it sometimes, but mostly, she keeps walking. And it is breaking my heart to watch her.

Here's what else I know: when your life brims over with pain and sadness--the real kind that can't be fixed with an attitude adjustment--you gotta go out and grow a bigger life. In fact, all of us, all the time, should be growing our lives as wide as our hearts can hold, so that, wherever there is grief, there will be some ghost of joy and gratitude to bear it company.

Be large. Love many. Give your time, give your energy, and above all else, give your empathy and enter in to all the joys and sorrows that there are in your friends' lives. Drink deep from the cup of life, especially when it is bitter, from motives of pure self-interest. Because in times of loss, it's all you've got to keep you going.

Don't tell me about the littleness of your life. Live large. When loss comes to you, too, it will give you something to hold on to.


Cosette said...

I wish I could reach through the screen and hug you.

DaisyDeadhead said...

(((Cat))) So sorry about your loss. This is a lovely post, and I agree about grief becoming a "skill"...

On my blog today, I commented about how my own pettiness has ebbed over time... I think this is due to the skill you speak of and a recognition of just how short life is... too short to nurse grudges, or at least (haha), not the way I used to!

Baby steps!

Again, always love your blog.

Magaly Guerrero said...

I'll light a candle for your friend, so that she can find her way. I'll put it right next to my grandmother's, she passed two weeks ago and I'll keep her candle on until All Hallow's Eve.

I think that you right the more we live the more we understand certain things, like our mortality, but by the Gods that does not make it any easier.

Virtual humongous hug and positive energy.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Cat,

We hold you and the others who grieve in the Light.

When someone very dear to me died it took 7 years of grieving before I didn't fall at times through the hole punctured in life.

I hesitate to share, but maybe I will. If you feel it might help, read my poem "Waking at the Funeral" I wrote for my dear aunt:

Daniel Wilcox

VIktoria Vidali said...

Very well written. Although it may sound counter intuitive to embrace pain and suffering, the world's greatest poets and our wisest authors are saying the same.

staśa said...

Damn. I'm so sorry.

I know the common wisdom is that we can start to expect this in our middle age. For me, these kinds of deaths, this kind of loss, started when I was in my 20s. Would I cope better with them if they had started to hit later? I don't know. I do know that, like you, I have found... not so much that they are easier over time, but perhaps, as you say, that I am more skilled. I certainly have more resources, internal and external.

I am so sorry for your loss, and for Janet's. Really, that's all...

Holding you in the Light, in the Goddess who is Death as part of Life, especially this time of year.

Heather Madrone said...

Thanks, Cat. We're in the final phase with my father right now, and your words speak straight to my condition.

Mynahnni said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mynahnni said...

Blessings in peace of heart, from a stranger such as I am, sent to you in this moment. I have been walking with the sadness and often confusion of grief recently as well. It is true that in the most profound grief, we may discover how deeply profound is joy in a moment, even as we no less grieve. We come to better know the tangible from the intangible, somehow.

Your writing in this moment reminds me of the following Poetry, something I read many, many times while healing from that which does not heal, never completely. Perhaps if you have not read it, it may find a place within your spirit as well.

The Cure

We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
Never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?

The way to get over a life is to die,
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things,
and be then not any less pain
but true to form.
Because anything natural has an
inherent shape and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for:
not the end of a thing
but the shape of it.

Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life without
obliterating,, getting over, a
single instant of it.

— Albert Huffstickler, from “Wanda” Walking Wounded


christopher said...

Cat, I check in from time to time. I saw this one and had to comment. It is not dark to know the truth of grief. Calling grief dark is the common conflation of grief and depression. Grief as you write of it is not depression. One way to understand the difference is to witness what you write of: it is possible to grow your life larger, to contain not only the grief but also the joy. I learned that lesson for the first time in 1983, and it amazed me so much that I try to share it when I can. I am sure that it is one of the keys to wisdom, this understanding that real grief has room in it for joy, whereas depression may not make enough room for joy.

That is, one tries to heal depression and to protect and value grief for it's depth and connection with the divine.

Real grief also has room, then, for genuine compassion, even when it is currently impossible to express it. Thank you for sharing yours.

Bright Crow (Mike Shell) said...

You speak my mind.

Blessed Be.

anj said...

What is dark to a grown daughter is light to this 48 year old. I am sorry for the death and loss of your friend. And to me, there is something very honoring about how you notice Janet's pain.

Glenn said...

Grief and loss are things that give color and depth to our life, the scars that they leave make our characture.

I think that christophoer makes some points that I know to be true, but have not reflected on. I know there can be joy in grief,

Holding you in the light.


Riverwolf, said...

Hi there--been away for a while. But thanks for posting this. Wise words!

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