I am honored to be assisting my dear mentor, friend, and spiritual sage in spreading the word about her powerful and practical grief primer, The Spirituality of Grief: Ten Practices for Those Who Remain. This association is a rich win-win on so many levels — as I get to spend time with Rev. Dr. Fran Shelton and soak in her sacred wisdom along the way. I also am deeply moved she included some of my musings on grief within her profound pages — in her chapter on lectio divina, no less.
So, here is that piece. As a caveat, I wrote this essay in the thick of the COVID lockdown, so the context is potent. But no matter the timeframe, I can’t think of anything more meaningful than allowing my words to provide even a morsel of comfort to a healing heart, also negotiating this rocky path. The good news is the intensity has somewhat softened since I wrote these words. Today is different from yesterday and unlike tomorrow. Grief is a journey that is far from linear, but there is hope in the glimmers that light the way. My heart is with yours. Here is the essay:
The problem with the wilderness is the confusion — compounded with disconnection from people, places and purpose. Grief clouds your mind’s eye and scuttles your sense of possibility. Nothing feels right. So many directions, but no place to go. It’s visceral bewilderment — figurative and physical, together and apart, curious and terrifying.
How could this possibly have happened?
Historically, ambiguity has never bothered me too much, but now, waist-deep in this primordial stew of the time after Elliot, I’m finding it profoundly difficult to figure out where I am in the wilderness. This is no ordinary time. And there is no denying this line in the sand. I call it grief’s San Andreas Fault — forever dividing the time before Elliot’s death from the time after, but it also contains the seething stress inherent in such tectonic tension. It’s like you have two separate lives, two completely different identities — joined by a precarious fracture. And three years into my “afterlife,” I’m still brittle, directionless and detached from most everything, except this unrelenting pain. Thankfully, the piercing icepick quality has morphed into a constant, dull ache.
The anguish of grief never goes away. It just mutates, kind of like the Coronavirus. But I have to believe both will subside in time.
Maybe it’s the conflation of COVID, the loss of my first-born son, and turning 60, but I feel like I am existing in some sort of meantime or Twilight Zone, between the before and the next, the shadow and the light. I find the ambiguity of the meantime difficult to navigate. Erratic directives from the Centers for Disease Control, my surviving son Ian’s bout with COVID, and the continuing chaos of sequestering, masking, and isolating (particularly in the non-compliant state of Texas) is overwhelming. Plus, I can’t help but grimace when I think of my year of working dangerously, actually two years — volatile hybrid work experiences in fraught environments, ranging from boastful bankruptcy to debilitating dysfunction.
The other problem is that the edges of my life have shrunk into the circumference of a tiny private island — and not the good kind. I recently read somewhere that a typical physical manifestation of grief across cultures is the expansion of the amygdala, the miniscule part of the brain that regulates emotions. Apparently, it grows and disrupts the frontal cortex, which is responsible for logical decision-making. I figure my amygdala must be the size of a cantaloupe. Though I am fully vaccinated and boosted, I just can’t seem to get beyond the pandemic mindset and chronic anxiety.
My greatest sense of accomplishment typically comes from successfully completing a trip to Target. Thriving has become irrelevant. It’s all about survival under a shroud of grief that eclipses my light and thwarts my resolve. So, what now? How do I make sense of this predicament in this phase of life — and somehow straddle the fault between Elliot’s passing and my future?
Caring pastors have advised, “Be gentle with yourself.”
That has always been a challenge for me, even in the best of times — but strangely, I am noticing that grief is teaching me to take better care of myself in the worst of times. Reparenting Elaine in a way. So, this I know — for Elliot’s death, for Ian’s life, and for my fragile soul, I want to find hope — to live and to love.