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The Possibilities That Lie Beyond Grief

We’ve been talking about possibilities for two weeks now, and today I want to tackle an important, but somewhat tricky subject: The Possibilities That Lie Beyond Grief.

This is tricky because in no way am I asking that someone ignore their grief or bottle up their grief simply to move on. We all grieve in different ways and there is no prescribed amount of time for grief. It is important that we honor our grief and understand that our grief will shape our lives, whether we want it to or not.

This translation of Psalm 31:9-10, 12-14 by Nan Merrill, gives voice to the pain of grief.

Be gracious to me, Beloved, for I am in distress;
My eyes are dim from weeping,
My soul is deep with grief.
For my life is worn away with sorrow, and my years with sighing;
My body has weakened and my bones waste away with misery.
Isolation, rejection, fear surround me and conspire to overwhelm me.
Still, I trust in You, O Love,
I repeat, “You are my Life.”

The psalmist speaks of the anguish of grief, the distress, tears, soul-deep emptiness and sadness, the lack of energy, isolation, rejection and fear.  And yet, it ends in a hopeful cry, trusting in Love, in God, in Life… despite it all.

I have a friend who says that it isn’t his prayer for his grief to be over, because he doesn’t really believe that is possible. But his prayer is that one day the grief will be ok, that he will learn to live with it. That instead of living frozen, he will melt.

And, there is a quote by Nora McInerny that says, “We don’t “move on” from grief. We move forward with it.”

These things are what this message is about… having hope, trusting in the Divine Unfoldment in our lives. This message is about melting, moving forward, finding the possibilities that still exist in our lives, no matter what we’ve been through. Think of grief today as fertilizer for new growth. New beginnings are possible. New opportunities are waiting. Joy and laughter are still possible for each of us.

When we think about grief, the first thing that comes to mind is the death of a loved one. And, yes, that is often earth-shattering. However, we can’t forget, or diminish the many other things we grieve: loss of a marriage, job, ability, friendship, innocence, expectations, dreams, home, family structure, independence and more.

I was recently told about a woman who lost her dream job ten years ago. She felt that job was her life’s calling and it completely shattered her when she lost it. Ever since she has pretty much remained frozen in place. She could have gotten the same kind of job somewhere else. Instead she has refused to learn and grow and move forward. She now has an eating disorder, she moved to a new town to start over, but still refuses to get a similar job… even though it was her “life’s calling.” In grief and fear, she has closed off to the possibilities that lie beyond grief.

Even when grief begins to fade, we often remain afraid to move forward.  Sometimes we're afraid it will look like we didn’t love someone enough if we don’t suffer long enough after they’re gone. We're afraid to risk having “it” happen again. We don’t want to go forward, we want to go backward. We've lost our confidence.

Our option is to be like the chambered nautilus (like in the picture for this blog). The nautilus is a deep sea cephalopod. As it grows, it builds a spiral shell, but it always lives in the newest chamber. By controlling the density and volume of the liquid within its shell chambers, the nautilus controls its buoyancy and is able to dive or ascend at will.

As a metaphor for our grief and our past, we can learn to live in the most recent chamber in our lives, building strong chambers for our past where we no longer live, but whose lessons give us buoyancy, balance, keep us upright and help us float. All of this takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight, but eventually we have a beautiful shell constructed of the stuff of our lives.

As Paula D’Arcy, in her book, When People Grieve, reminds us that grief tears our hearts open, and then as we begin to heal we have the choice of whether we will engage life again, or hide from it. It took Paula a long time, but eventually she came to understand that “the grief that wounded me made me rich with sight. And sometimes, now, I weep because of how much is possible. How we might live.”

Let me share a few stories from the book Life After Loss by Bob Deits, of people who found possibilities beyond grief.

Jan was an accomplished roller skate dancer. She was as graceful on skates as she was dedicated to her sport.

That all changed just before Christmas one year. Jan was on her way to go caroling with her church group. A man ran a red light and broadsided her car. She was not wearing a seat belt. The impact threw her across the seat, and her head hit the passenger side door.

It was several weeks before she woke up out of her coma. When she did, it was clear that she had sustained serious and permanent damage to the motor section of her brain.

She had to learn to read and write – and to walk – again. Her sense of balance has been damaged so that skating is not possible. The amnesia she has from the trauma has blocked out any memory of skating.

Jan walks every day. She has again joined a choir. She goes to the skating rink and takes photos of the other skaters, then gives them the pictures. Jan also spends time online and is a source of funny stories and poignant anecdotes to a large group of friends.

She talks freely about the parts of her experience she can remember. She is not bitter about the challenges she faces. Jan… has found a good and meaningful life after a terrible loss.

Matthew was diagnosed with cancer on the day of his fourteenth wedding anniversary. His wife, Barbara, was at his side through chemotherapy. He seemed fine for awhile, but then tests revealed more cancer. Again, treatment seemed to be effective, but he grew steadily weaker. He had trouble breathing and tired quickly. This time the tests revealed not cancer but pulmonary fibrosis – a side effect of the chemo.

Four years after his cancer diagnosis, Matthew died of pulmonary fibrosis.

Barbara was heartbroken and angry. She questioned why doctors could save him from cancer but killed him with the treatment. She was angry with God, who she felt had deserted them.

When Barbara began attending a support group she didn’t have much that was positive to say. Efforts to reach out to her were often met with sarcastic rejection. However, she kept coming, and over the course of time, a new person began to emerge.

Barbara would tell you that the key was the day she was able to forgive herself for not being able to save Matthew.  Now, years later, she is a positive, outgoing person who is the life of any party she attends. She drives a large motor home across country by herself and maintains a family cabin in the mountains. She sings in the church choir, ushers, and serves as a volunteer care-giver to elderly people.

The life Barbara has is not the one she would have chosen for herself. Given a choice, she would give up anything to have Matthew back again. But she has a full, rewarding life that is good in its own way. 

Deits writes, “Talking with someone who [has] recovered from grief [is] like talking to an adventurer… those who conquered grief talk more about what they have found than what they have lost. Their lives reflect the events of the past, but are focused on the future. Death and loss do not dominate their thoughts. They have a sense of joy that is more solid than most people’s because they know there is nothing life can deal that they can’t handle. They are compassionate people. They have more patience than most folks. They have a reverence for life and a deep appreciation for human relationships.” 

Grief cycles through our lives over and over again. No matter where you are in this continuous cycle, know that you are not alone. Trust in the Universal Spirit and the unfolding of life before you. Be aware of the possibilities before you on a daily basis, and what holds you back from taking them.  Melt into life. Move forward. And learn from the chambered nautilus to live not in the past, but instead to use those lessons to remain buoyant and balanced as we navigate our way through the great ocean of life.

 

Love & Light!

Kaye