Miss Havisham from Great Expectations
It has never been my intention to become a professional widow—which, I'm discovering, is actually a bit tricky because the majority of my work these days is centered on death, dying, and grief.
I have been richly schooled by the process of loss and mourning I have been living and documenting for nearly six years. And yet, the haunting image of Charles Dickens's Miss Havisham occasionally arises as warning not to become too comfortable with bereavement. Because allowing myself to recover from grief has emerged as surprisingly risky.
The challenge is two-fold. First, there is the inherent danger of getting stuck in a sort of perpetual sorrow that could pervade every other emotion or life event—if I allowed it. It's part of the frequent, "You never really get over it," comment from those who, years ago, survived the death of a loved one.
I accept that their experience is not only true, but that it can also be healthy. Why would we want to completely forget or deny the poignance of a loss that touched us so deeply? We are, indeed, human onions with many layers of awareness to peel off as we journey through life.
Grief, the great stripper of the mundane, always has something pertinent to teach us. So, allowing ourselves to be touched anew by a surprise reminder of one we have loved and lost, is proof of a heart that continues to open and compassion for the suffering of others that continues to grow.
The fine line that must be walked here is in allowing grief to transform itself into a more profound appreciation of life—even as we remain open to the tears that may occasionally startle us with their sudden intensity. For it is this transformative process that actually creates the second challenge of recovery.
What happens when we go back into the world as our "new normal?" I find that such an ironic term, based on the assumption that there was ever an "old normal." We are lured by the happy myth that, at some point in time, our lives were stable, predictable, scheduled, and orderly—and that, if we try hard enough, we can resume some semblance of that life to heal us from the crashing chaos that loss has just put us through. And to protect us from it ever happening again.
What we're really saying is, "I would so like for life to be a bit boring for just a while so I can catch up to myself—to figure out who that self is and how she is going to function going forward." I am a big proponent of finding time to "idle" after dramatic loss. As long as the idling itself doesn't become the "new normal." Which, I suppose, is a personal concern.
A Mountain-top Experience
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The death of my husband and subsequent years of bereavement have been for me a mountain-top experience—if you can call losing the other half of one's self and plunging to the darkest depths of being as the "mountain top."
Yet, it has been a peak experience. Simultaneously the worst and most important thing that ever happened to me. And a journey into the core of my authentic Self unlike any I could have imagined.
Grief has burned up a lot of old illusions and resistances, leaving me a bit naked to the world and yet revealed to myself as the creative person I had always wanted, yet feared, to be. I hope that heart wrenching loss is not the only avenue to my ongoing creative expression. But doing it on my own, without the raw power of grief driving me deeper, feels risky and difficult. It is a task I know I must embrace, even though I would prefer to simply bask in the glow of mourning's insights.
At the Cliff Edge
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As with any experience that propels us into a luminous awareness of life's deepest mysteries, we must eventually step back from the brink, integrate what we have learned at the cliff edge, and get back to our work in the world—that can seem so very dull in comparison.
The key here—and what I find most challenging, fascinating, and, yes, risky—is to take care of daily business in a new way, as the transformed self. Knowing that I will never be quite the same as I was, and resisting the temptation to either remain too sad or to fall back into old patterns that were never very useful but whose familiarity can be quite seductive.
Once we have become familiar with the sights, sounds, sensations, and even the gifts of grief, we may feel that in recovering we risk losing our self all over again. I have to believe that I can be more than my loss. And that grief, while a mysteriously effective force for healing, is meant to carry me forward to the surface where life becomes once again powerfully positive and more than worth the effort.
Cheryl Eckl's new book, A Beautiful Grief: Reflections on Letting Go, is now available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and at www.ABeautifulGrief.com
Copyright 2012 Cheryl Eckl Communications, Inc.