Grief’s Paradox

“Perhaps this is grief’s paradox - that in acknowledging the wound in our hearts, in tending with mercy to that which is breaking open within us, we are also given an opportunity to undertake the work of becoming more fully ourselves, committing even more deeply to our own path.” ~Katrina Kenison, Moments of Seeing


Seven months have passed in this new life of mine, this life that’s missing one of it’s key players, one of it’s most central figures, one of it’s Very Important People. The initial turmoil of  shock, panic, despair, and loneliness has settled into a quiet and resigned acceptance. Do I still miss my mother? Still yearn for her voice, her understanding, her deep abiding love? Of course. I know those feelings will go with me to my own grave. But I’ve tucked them into a safe place in my heart where her memory abides. I connect with her there, carry her with me throughout my day and feel her gentle presence always with me. 

To paraphrase Katrina Kenison’s words in that quote above, it’s been seven long months of “tending with mercy to that which was broken open within me.” It wasn’t always pretty, that process of “tending.” There were sleepless nights, angry words, hurt feelings. There was anxiety - oh, so much anxiety. There was too little healthy eating, too little exercising, too much mindless internet surfing and too much wine drinking. There were pages and pages of journal entries, some nearly incoherent, a tangled outpouring of raw emotion.

But there were also amazing talks with friends, and new sources of comfort coming from unexpected connections. There was a little grandson who appeared at just the right time and reminded me that there was really a future worth living for. There was reconnecting with a childhood friend after decades apart, someone who had also loved my mother at a long-ago time of life we’d both nearly forgotten. 

Then just last week there were days spent with family in Atlanta, Georgia-  my sole-surviving aunt, my cousin, her husband, children, and grandchildren. Again, far too much time had passed since we had been together. I saw my aunt a few times in Florida when we happened to be visiting my dad there, but it had been at least 25 years since I saw my cousin Lynn, who is just six months younger than I am. And though it had been 25 years since we saw each other, it felt like 25 minutes to me. I felt not only comfortable with them but comforted by them. Perhaps the deeper genetic connection helped us overcome the time and distance in our practical connection - whatever the reason, it was a wonderful few days of being together, of sharing stories, of catching up on a lot of life lived all around. 

For some time I had felt called to visit them, to spend some time with people who not only shared my blood, but also a history, someone who knew me when I was a child, who watched me grow up, who had lived with and loved my parents. Heeding that call is indicative of the ways I’m beginning to “undertake the work of becoming more fully myself,” as Kenison writes. After years and years of living for others - my mom being at the top of that list - I’m exploring this idea of living for myself which means I must uncover who that self really is. I’m seeing that she’s someone who might want to widen her circle, that she has much to offer but also much to gain by exploring and deepening her relationships with other people in the real world. 

“In grief...there is transformation for the living,” writes Elisabeth Kubler Ross (On Grief and Grieving). “If you do not take the time to grieve, you cannot find a future in which loss is remembered and honored without pain.” I always thought of grief as a finite period of time, a matter of weeks, months, years perhaps. But now I see grief is a new state of being that coexists within me, completing the connection with my mother that began the moment I was conceived. “You will heal,” Kubler Ross assures us. “You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be, nor would you want to."

In the past few weeks I’ve watched the world around me grow vibrant with color, trees glowing crimson and gold against the deep blue sky. Perhaps it’s not coincidence but another paradox that they become their most beautiful at their time of irrevocable loss. I’m seeing that life after loss is not just a sorrowful, anguished time, but also a growing time, a changing time, one even more beautiful and colorful in its way than life before.

You won’t be surprised to know that books play an integral part in healing my grief and getting through some long and lonely days. Right now I’m reading a new book by Katrina Kenison, Moments of Seeing, a curated collection of short essays from her blog written over the past eight years. Kenison’s books (Mitten Strings for God, The Gift of and Ordinary Day, and Magical Journey) always speak directly to my heart, and this one is no exception. Give yourself the gift of a copy of this beautiful book; you can purchase a copy right here.