Today the skies are cloudy and grey…and for me, it is fitting. This is the day of visiting the grave, and remembering what might have been. An annual day of sadness that is as much a part of my life as Christmas and birthdays. Some years it has a gut wrenching quality to it…other years, it has more of a melancholy wistfulness.
Last week, I exchanged communication with Alicia King, author of Healing: The Essential Guide to helping others overcome Grief and Loss . She had posted this incredible quote from Anne Lamott:
I let her know how meaningful the quote had been to me, as I anticipated today, and she responded kindly and very simply, “My heart goes out to you…I sure don’t understand it.”
Melanie, our office manager emailed me this morning as I work out of the office…her email saying simply only 4 words: “Thinking of you today.”
Reminds me of a conversation we had recently around the table at Nadia’s wedding celebration…one couple we sat with knew Nadia’s new in-laws because they were a year or two ahead on them in the life of experiencing the death of a son.
The fellow regaled us with fascinating stories of a life as an auctioneer…he had us in stitches with his hilarity.
He began telling us about a fellow in Quebec whom he had ordered company ballpoint pens from for many years. The story took a sharp turn from funny to poignant when he related how this guy had called him for help one day…saying friends had lost their daughter suddenly and he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to be supportive but he didn’t know how. He knew the auctioneer had lost a son and asked for advice.
The auctioner said to him, “Go see them. Just tell them you’re praying for them. That’s all you need to say”.
Months later, the ball point pen salesman called back to say, “You were right. Just going there, saying very little was good. I listened to their stories and their grief. They seem to like that, and so I go back to visit”.
I’ve given workshops to caregivers…plumbers, electricians, teachers, homemakers, accountants…people who care about others and want to be there for others in times of need. They want to help…but often are intimidated by the enormity of the challenge/responsibility at a time of crisis, or are concerned that they will do it wrong.
I focus on two things with folks during these workshops:
- Say something: Open the door to conversation. Acknowledge the pain. Name it. Give permission to the other that you are open to discussion. Those in grief sense fear of the loss from others when they don’t say anything…that creates isolation which further emphasizes the loss. If those that are suffering grief sense you are uncomfortable and can’t handle it, they will let you stay silent…but you both lose on meaningful connection. Yep, you might say the wrong thing…but saying nothing is often worse than saying the wrong thing. You can let the other know you don’t know what to say or are worried you’ll say the wrong thing…that itself can be “the something”.
- Say nothing: Your words aren’t going to be magic in making anything better, so take that pressure off yourself of needing to say anything brilliant that will have some huge impact. Avoid the common mistake of working to help the other person feel better as an avenue to avoid your own distress at seeing them so sad. If they cry after something you’ve said, you haven’t “made them cry”…you’ve merely touched them and there is release of sadness that is already there. It is insulting as a person in grief to hear lines like, “It was for the best,” “Time heals”, blah blah blah. You won’t fix their grief, you can’t cheer them up…don’t try. Just be. Listen. Or sit in the quiet.
Today, I have received a few emails, texts and short greetings, now, many years later…of support and understanding. They have meant a lot.
On a day, when I’m feeling the limp more than usual, they have given me encouragment and strength to dance in the rain of today.
And today, dancing is required…at the florist, as I bought flowers for the grave and another for my table at home, I also picked up flowers for a colleague in the community who I thought could use some encouragement (she told me I could have had no idea how good the timing was for her).
On the way to the cemetery, I stopped at the store to pick up supplies for our celebration tonight…that’s right, a celebration.
Because even as I mourn a loss from years ago, we celebrate the ending of a season with one who is with us. Celebration doesn’t stop today because I am full of remembering. Today they co-exist…the dance and the limp.
Celebrations aren’t hard to have, even on a day like today, with those who are around to celebrate achievements…I choose joy today to mingle with my sorrow.
Joy and sorrow can co-exist…it just means the expression of joy limps a little.
But with the help of a community who cares, I will celebrate with loved ones at the dinner table..
The dance of life, of celebration and joy that comes with the end of exams, will happen at the dining room table even as white roses of remembrance are at the center of the table.
Dancing with a limp today. But dancing. And I wouldn’t give up the limp for anything.