Grief Personified, Hope Enduring

The Abbey Farm, my earlier blog, was about the wonderful experience of living in a former Benedictine Monastery and raising our children. “Busy” was an understatement, and of course there were challenges, but it was a lived dream. Our sale closes today and we are excited that the new owners are yet another large family who will live out their dreams there. The wife and mother is a gracious and generous soul who intuitively asked if I was dealing well with the emotional aspect of selling. Yes, I am. What I have realized is that it is a process. For myself more than my husband, it involves grief.

I was the Mom who managed the place, paid the bills and raised the kids. I was home more of the time because he spent hours at work each day. He is more a renaissance man than any other I know and he gave more than his fair share. I’m just “feeling it” more, and try as he might to understand me, how could he if I have trouble understanding myself?

Looking back now, I see how friends have lived their lives expecting too much of their spouse or partner. In this age of equality we forget that there are not just differences in gender (we have biological differences unique to each of us), but differences in personality and ability. Perhaps some relationships can’t be 50-50 in certain areas. I was always told to strive for 100-100! Yet, think about it; one person’s 100% may not be enough to perform 50% of the work. In illness, they may offer far less. Those who have nursed a partner through cancer realize that their loved one can only lend a fraction of a percentage to the “50-50.” Life does not conform to neat equations.

My sister-in-law is one of the most self-actualized persons I know. When dealing with grief she learned a technique to anthropomorphize grief–to think of it as a person. First, identify the feeling that the grief evokes, and where it is felt in your body. Then imagine that you are the friend to that grief “person.” You do not need to reason away the feelings or say the right thing, as many well-meaning friends want to do, but just to “be” with them. I tried this and found myself able to separate from confused feelings and “be” with my grief. I saw more clearly that time would help this “friend.” I sat with “her” and when I needed to tend to a task in the house, instead of feeling overwhelmed, I let her know that I would be back. The day went on, life went on, and I was able to be productive. My mood lifted.

I realized that it was not so important to get my husband to understand exactly how I felt. In fact, it was better for me to do this work on my own. This morning I had an image of that work and it became a parable of sorts:

When we are young adults we may have less experience, but we usually have more strength and perhaps more raw material to work with. We lack wisdom and experience, but we construct a life quickly. With good intent, these are built swiftly to meet our immediate needs. I pictured this life as an abode. We are the builder-tenants. Winds blow, pieces fall off, and repairs must be made regularly. After a few years, what was once a simple, lithe dwelling becomes tacked-on, patched and perhaps less attractive. But it is home and it is livable. Over time, it reacts to elements like wind and water, to attacks both natural and man-made.

In moments of calm the builder-tenant has a choice to grow, and may say, “This is what I have, it’s the best I can do at this point.” Any faults are easily hidden with paint and flowers which look more attractive but inside, the walls and floors may be on the verge of collapse at life’s inevitable, next assault. Another choice which could be made during the calm is to perform the difficult maintenance and repair work.

Decades of life bring on a havoc of their own, the inexorable wear-and-tear, and forces not anticipated. A tornado, a flood, or a sinkhole may threaten even a well-built structure. Heavy, relentless, back-breaking, seemingly thankless and unrewarded labor may require digging down to expose the weak foundation and to repair sections–or to completely rebuild. Labor may result in no outward change, yet that which is essential to the core strength of the abode.

Friends and family will ideally come to aid. If the builder has a partner who soothes with physical love and distraction, it is restorative. There is rest, and rest is important. Still, over time, it is the tenant who must accomplish the structural work needed by the building. Exhausted as he is, he rolls up his sleeves, reads manuals, contemplates, plans and executes. Little-by-little, the intensely hard work of fortification is done. A replaced beam, a sistered joist, waterproofing, rewiring, tuck-pointing, task by task he keeps on. He falls into bed at night spent, and awakens early to continue the process. He does not need an elegant edifice, and realizes that it is the process which is more important than the end result.

The “parable” is reflective of the work necessary in our own lives. Wonderful as all the external support we may be blessed with, and as hard as we strive to portray the person whom we wish others to see, the hardest work we have in our lives is our own to accomplish. It requires regular maintenance as well as repair. You may think, well, of course! But there are many who lean heavily on others, or who expect too much of them. I learned this when my late husband passed suddenly. Without his support, I needed to roll up my sleeves and get to work learning the things that needed to be done both physically and mentally. Even now with my amazing husband, I realize that this grief-work is mine to perform. It doesn’t mean he can’t be supportive–it is just that the grief is unique to me, and I must learn how to work it out.

I am not implying that we go things alone–there are times we need to visit the doctor or establish a relationship with a therapist. Certainly if dealing with protracted depression, or trauma or addictions one needs that expert help and support. I was, long ago, a nurse on an addictions unit and saw the grueling work it took on the part my patients. This same fortitude I later saw in my hospice patients and families. This work is accomplished step by step, inch by inch, sometimes seemingly futile and without end. It is in reality the furthest thing from futile.

When dealing with grief, think “Everything is permeable”.  Grief is permeable.  Moments will come that shift you away from the pain and turmoil.  Look for these moments of relief and notice them, live into them.

Sylvia Boorstein

There will be gains made and relief in which to rest. More important than the destination is the journey. At the same time, we try to offer support to our loved ones, as they perform their unique life’s work.

Excellent guest that He is, the Spirit finds you empty and fills you; he finds you hungry and thirsty and satisfies you abundantly. God the Holy Spirit, Who comes from God, when He enters into people, draws them to the love of God and neighbor. Indeed, He is love itself.

Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 225, 4

Wisdom, work ethic, faith, hope, trust and love: these are the things that last, that go with us. They live on in the memories of those who remain after us. There is hope in the next phase of life. Strive to look back in gratitude, and forward in grace.

Author:

Yes, Mom of ten plus. Ten of our own, host-Mom of foreign exchange students and au pairs, and other wonderful young men and women. The latter were the direct influence of our special needs daughter, Mary Pat, and they have blessed us in innumerable ways. Past prime is okay; so many life experiences cause one to reflect on things learned and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

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