Some excerpts from "Grief Is Wanting What You Cannot Havecopyright, 1999, James Surkamp
Nineteen-year-olds don't know how to speak. Nineteen-year-olds are half-filled vessels. Robert Bly once said grief is one of those gifts of age.
Grief is the great humbler. A death loss of someone we love is the great humbler. We underestimate the power of grief.
We live so often with these words - love and hope - we don't know what they mean and what deeds they carry with them.
Love is the thing that keeps a person open - instead of closing - to life.
Love is that connection to aliveness.
Love takes the form of connections to little pets, cats and dogs.
Love takes the form of the little grand child bouncing on the knee of the grieving widow.
. . . Listening to a beautiful strain of Brahms,
. . . Listening to a beautiful and true poem. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill once said he was lifted out of a nervous breakdown reading a poem by Wordsworth.
Music . . .the nature behind me. . .the cicadas in the trees, all of these surroundings are there from time immemorial , there for us to comfort us - manifestations of the fact that life does go on.
Hope, the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, is that special thing that doesn't need any external reason or stimuli. Hope, he said - in his very dark and sobering essays he wrote later in life he called, of all things, the "Crack-Up" series - he said in there hope is something that can be destroyed by discouragement which has a germ all its own.
Discouragement is born from within with no good reason.
Hope is born from within with no good reason.
Hope is what tells us there is a tomorrow.
Hope is what tells us to wait for the next thing.
Hope, as Emily Dickinson said, is the thing with feathers, but that doesn't help any.
Hope is that thing that tells us our life, which is frozen in time with no sense of the passage of time, will begin moving again just like a stream; the flow of our life, like a river flowing in spring, will be recurring in the future.
So we need love and hope.
The hole is real. It's an emotional hole.
It's as if, day-in-and-day-out, you have been with your husband, wife, or child, or confidantes, sharing confidences, sharing memories, listening, confirming, weaving this relationship, this emotional dependence, this shared selfhood into a very rich tableaux, this tapestry, this weave - And it's ripped apart.
And it's hard because a great deal of this weave is subconscious now and habitual; and it's ripped apart.
When you are helping a widow or a widower you can actually complicate and confuse the grief if you throw around some concepts of grief that might not be generally true. The many stages of grief can be problematic.
Somebody says: "How long does this last?"
I always hear that. I simply say it lasts until you can accept it. The grief gets beyond the reality-check, the ups-and-downs, the mood swings of the heart and mind playing with each other. You get past that only by going through it. Acceptance only comes when you understand this process. Only when you know "I cannot have someone that I want. They're not coming back - These are my life forces that are now bereft and looking for someplace to go. And my love forces. I need to fill that hole in some other way, however, unsatisfying."
Think of the widow, you're talking to, even on the phone or over coffee. Imagine her, trying to maintain hope, coping till insight comes, hoping till hope creates - in a canoe. Picture her in a canoe in the middle of the Atlantic - with its rising mountains of foamy, fathomless depth, frightening, awe-inspiring power, at night, in the winter, at mid-Atlantic-a long dark night of the soul in the words of St. John of the Cross. And she is paddling, paddling a circle, no idea where, coping until insight comes, hoping until hope creates. And she sees on the horizon, a light that grows into an entire ocean liner. She hears laughter, the tinkling of glasses on this gargantuan vessel as it goes by. .She hears an orchestra playing on the deck and she shouts in her weak little voice: "Help! Help me!"
And somebody on the deck says: "I know how you feel."
Another person says: "It's God's will!"
Or says: "You'll get over it soon!"
And the boat sails on. That is the extent of most people's assistance.
And she paddles, not knowing that underneath these frothy waves there are deeper un-seeable forces that are moving her seemingly lost vessel; so that, at some point unbeknownst to her, the clouds clear with a blue sky. And she paddles and the tides carry her until, unbelievably, there is a sandy beach, palm trees, and people who want her and are calling her home.
Loneliness is truly a problem, but we must never let it deteriorate into anger or give up.
Anger will make you physically sick.
There might be a man who killed someone's child or wife. And he's in prison. Yet the surviving family hates him constantly. They never feel satisfied with the justice served, if it was served. The great moment comes when they realize that the anger and hatred for him is only hurting them just as a coal held in the hand tightly, he is succeeding by making them his emotional hostage. They are failing by letting themselves be his emotional hostage.
Anger always hurts the creator and seldom reaches the recipient.
If you are angry at an event, a death, or a person, a very, very good piece of advice by a South Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hahn is - he said: "Death is not the Enemy". Illness is not the Enemy. A man, a murderer is not the Enemy. A careless doctor is not the Enemy. "Fear is the Enemy. Anger is the Enemy. Despair is the Enemy." This is very important.
Also, if you find someone who is very angry, don't tell them to express their or "let your anger out." It's not always true to say: "Get your anger out." Sometimes people cause more harm than good.
We need to trace it back to causes that help them, then identify, and put a face on the anger, and de-generalize this anger.
Do not tell anyone to not feel guilty if they do. But we can quibble over magnitude. We can tell them: "Did you step on an ant and are you giving yourself the electric chair?"
Grief Is Wanting What You Cannot Have
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