Well here we are, 47 days after Ash Wednesday, we are here at Easter Sunday. The day death died, alleluia Christ is risen!
Easter reminds us that we can believe in hope beyond our earthly lives. Easter reminds us that as many sunsets that we see here on earth, as many tears as we shed as we watch the sun set, that we need not lose hope. The sun will rise. The sun will always rise, perhaps not here on earth, perhaps not in this life but we can have hope that, one day, somewhere else, the sun will rise. Just as The Son rose, and conquered death and grief.
I want to finish this blog, and this writing project, with a poem by John T Baker. A poem that picks up this theme of sunset and sunrise, and incidentally the poem that was read at my mum’s funeral.
Along the shore I spy a ship As she set out to sea;
She spreads her sails and sniffs the breeze
And slips away from me.
I watch her fading image shrink,
As she moves on and on, Until at last she’s but a speck,
Then someone says, “She’s gone.”
Gone where? Gone only form our sight
And from our farewell cries;
That ship will somewhere reappear to other eager eyes.
Beyond the dim horizon’s rim, resound the welcome drums,
And while we’re crying, There she goes!
They’re shouting, Here she comes!
We’re built to cruise for but a while
Upon the trackless sea
Until one day we sail away into infinity.
One of my favourite quotes is the one below, I’ve held on to it for many years now.
When I’m having rough grief days, when I feel ambushed by grief, when the world isn’t understanding, when I’m yearning for the before- I try to remind myself that I’m going to be ok, because up until this point I have survived.
Grief can make us feel like we are never going to be ok ever again. But chemically, grief is our brains doing the hard and painful work to ensure we can and will be ok once more. Grief is the process of our brains chemically rewiring after an attachment relationship ends, ensuring that biochemically we can feel joy again.
I know I’m going to be ok, because I have made it this far. I know I’m going to be ok, because my brain has done the hard work, so that I can be ok. I know that I will be ok, because there is no other choice.
Grief doesn’t end, we don’t get over it, but we can and we will be ok again.
I spoke the other day about my Pinterest grief board, and Pinterest being the kind of site that recommends things it thinks you will find interesting- this was what it had for me this morning, and I loved it, and it felt really relevant for today’s prompt.
I think most people, when they are first flung into grief, ask how they are ever going to cope. The comment that I often got from friends, as a bereaved young person, was that they didn’t know how they would cope. And the truth is, the thing you learn quite quickly when you’re grieving, is that you don’t know how you cope, there isn’t a an equation to it. You just cope. You just do. Because there isn’t another choice.
And how do we cope, and carry on coping as the shadows grow longer? You do what this quote I’ve just found suggests. You sit with it, when when you don’t want to. Even when it feels counter intuitive and like the very thing that constitutes not coping. You sit with your grief. You sit in the shadows and you feel it. And as you feel it, over the weeks and months and years, you realise that you’re coping.
And that is how I will carry on coping every day, I will sit with it, even when I hate it, and I will feel.
(I like today’s and yesterday’s prompts… it’s like a double bill, a two parter!)
We can’t stay forever in the before, because grief catapults us into the after. During the first throws of grief- the first weeks, months and years- we fight against the after. We feel we have been wrongfully and rudely ripped from the before. We rage against the world and fight to get back to before. Something that isn’t actually there anymore.
But with time, while we don’t get over things, we find a place in the after. A place that makes sense for us, we realise that while our person may not be in the after with us, love exists in the after. There is life and joy and light in the after. We still exist in the after, even though we thought it might kill us when we were first dumped there by grief.
And, with a bit more time, we can take our bag of shattered fragments, our broken hearts, our fractured spirits, and begin to rebuild in the after.
I have this theory- well it’s not just mine, but I wrote and teach about it a lot- that when someone we love dies we split our lives into before and after.
I’m very good at telling you if something happened before or after 2006, because I can remember if my mum was alive for it or not.
Grief is trying to live our lives in the before. We yearn for what life looked like before grief came in. We look for the people from our before. Grief is our bodies catching up to realise that we don;t live in the before anymore. We can’t stay in the before though, because time is marching on and the after stretches ahead of us.
But we can visit the before, that’s what remembering is. Allowing a few moments each day to remember, to grieve and to sit in the shadows of before. That’s what anniversaries and holidays and special seasons are for, trips back to before. When someone recalls a memory, and mentions their name, it’s like a phone call to the before. Visiting graves, or other sacred spaces are thin places where the before and after meet.
The before is the past, and we don’t live there anymore. There is huge pain in that, as there are people and places that we cannot bring with us, but we are in the after, and here there is life.
I have a Pinterest board of grief things; quotes, pictures, activities and other little things I find interesting related to grief. The picture that sprang to my mind when I read this prompt was the first picture I ever saved to the board, years ago.
It can be an odd thing to make promises to someone who has died. There is the potential it could hold you in an unhealthy place- bound to something that feels all encompassing. But it can also be something that saves you, a promise that pulls you on, beyond the darkest shadows of your grief.
I think this quote falls into the latter kids of promise.
I have shared this picture before, when I wrote about grief through holy week (an apt time to go and read those if you haven’t before). It is a beautiful quote of defiance in the face of grief.
And I think that is my aim in my grief, my promise to my mum. That I will be defiant. That I will live. That I will carry on loving. My promise is that I will survive.
I’ve already blogged about what I think about the nature of grief, how it is cyclical, ebbing and flowing with the passing of time. Because of this, I’m sure you can imagine that my answer to this prompt is, no.
I do think that my grief will continue to change, as it has over the last 13 years. It will morph, change shape, as my grieving behaviours will continue to cycle around me. I do think that my grief will not always be to the same severity.
But the the truth is that I don’t think my grief will ever end. And I don’t think I ever want it to, because as long as I am grieving, I am also loving, and remembering, and growing and changing.
I often find it hard to recognise hope in the moment. Hindsight is like a spotlight that makes me realise hope retrospectively.
For me, it is far easier to look back and realise the little bits of healing that have happened over time, than to see them in the moment. For example, it might be that with hindsight you can look back and see that in the last year your hard days and anniversaries have become a little easier, than it is on the day itself to realise you’re doing better than you had been doing.
So, for me, hope looks like noticing little bits of healing that have already taken place. Hope feels like understanding why it is that I feel a little bit lighter than I had the year before.
I think one of the things that grief does to you, is that it pushes you to find sacred spaces. There becomes the need to be in certain places, quiet, beautiful, meaningful places where we can remember or grieve.
For me beaches, not even specific beaches, are always sacred spaces. For some people it might be a specific spot in the garden. For others mountains are sacred spaces. It could be the graveside, a beautiful church, outside in nature, inside in warmth. There possibilities are endless, because it is so personal to each of us, what will be sacred to us.
I think this is an interesting concept at the moment, because for those of us who have a faith can’t, currently, meet in our scared spaces. So, just as when we are grieving, it is important, at the moment, for us to find a place that feels sacred- obviously keeping within the regulations at the moment!
A place to be still, a place to be quiet, a place to pray, to meditate, a place to remember and a place to grieve.
I will never stop being obsessed with this idea of light and dark. It’s no accident that my book is titled around the idea of light and shadow.
I’ve only just come across this quote, and I love it, it sums up perfectly the idea that has been in my head for 10 years now.
It is because there was and continues to be light in the world and in our lives, that the shadows exists. I know some people who have been bereaved don’t particularly like the idea that grief is the price we pay for love, that grief is simply love with nowhere to go, but it works for me. The idea that the shadowy darkness I feel, comes out of the love and light in my life.