Pedro Aznar, an Argentinian musician, once said that if you’ve experienced great pain, then write about it, compose songs about it, talk about it, send it out to the universe (I’m paraphrasing).
I’ve always agreed with that statement. Revisiting grief when you need to, is a way of integrating aspects of yourself -your grief being but one aspect. Integration is the opposite of denial. Denial creates shadow, integration is a stepping stone on the path to wisdom.
While our identity, as believers, is crafted by God, through the work of his son, we do live on Earth and in a body, with everything this implies (emotional bruises, scars as well as emotional treasures).
The Heavenly seating places we have been promised have yet to come, so in the meantime, we experience brokenness. Yes, it can be argued that joy is also a fundamental part of the human experience; however, with the prospect of death looming over us, the knowledge that death will separate us from those we love, it is fair to say that brokenness has a pretty big place under the sun.
And it is grief, pain and suffering that seems to have the most impact on our character. CS Lewis says, ever so wisely, that “pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.” And Jung states that:
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
So, while on this Earth, the healthy way to go about our business is acknowledging the brokenness, our bruising and scarring. And in so acknowledging them, we strip them of their power.
Some of these events we will explore through art -perhaps time and time again.
Others are silent contemplation, a meditation between us and God. Not all our secrets are meant to be shared. Some are inexplicable. Some translate badly, some wound others. Some are best explored and dealt with in prayer.
The last time I experienced overwhelming grief was a couple of years ago. It was the kind that takes your breath away, that leaves you shaking, unable to cry quietly, no… the sorrow comes in gasps and sobs, rattling you whole.
I was dreaming, though I wasn’t aware at the time.
The setting was the front yard of a house on my grandmother’s street. What I was doing at this house I had no clue, but I was going down the front porch steps. The sun kissed every tree top, a gust of wind brought my hair to my eyes; as I brushed it off with my hand, I suddenly saw a van park in front of me. The doors opened and Dad came out, smiling, his arms outstretched, laughing.
So many thoughts rushed through my head.
“He’s not dead. There was a mistake somewhere.”
“He’s here to tell us that he’s actually a secret agent who faked his own death.”
“I’ve missed him so, so much. How could I have lived without him all this time?”
“He wasn’t here for my teenage years and my twenties.”
“I have to tell him about the advent of the internet.”
“I love him so much my heart hurts.”
“I don’t want to live anymore if it means not being with him.”
Dad and I looked at each other. I was aware of the tears that streamed down my face, but the ache in my chest was so much stronger. I went down the steps, running, running towards him, to his outstretched arms.
Then I woke up.
I was confused at first. The room was cold. No sunlight, no trees… No van.
The sobs came slowly but surely as I realized it had all been a dream. I lost track of the time I sat in bed, crying.
Crying for all the years I didn’t cry because I had to man up and be my family’s pillar at seventeen.
Crying for the teenage years I lost to poverty and broken dreams.
Crying for the void this beautiful man had left in my life. The colors would never again be as bright, a gray edge would dull every single shade and hue because he was no more.
I let the grief come and shake me. Gently at first, then racking sobs.
I revisited my grief that morning, and then during that day, as I got up and headed towards the cemetery, a two-hour bus trip, so I could say goodbye. Something I had never said because saying it was too circular, too final.
I wish I could say this story ended with healing. To a certain extent, yes. But grief, loss; they stay with you always.
Nowadays my grief over Dad’s death is not as all-encompassing as it used to be.
I have revisited it now and then and I’ve found that the more I let it out into the open, the less it stings.
Even Sinatra, whom I couldn’t listen to for years after his death, has become once again, a friendly voice in my mp3.
When I sing along to Ol’ Blue Eyes I am taken back to lovely times, a time when Dad sang Sinatra for me in our living room, the blues, oranges and yellows of the large vitraux sparkling behind him.
Little by little.