On dealing with grief

A week ago I learned that Teresa died. I have long enjoyed her family band, The Cutters, a blend of Irish, Sea Shanties, and old time music. Fiddle, guitars, harmonies. Just good stuff. We once had a lengthy conversation when I ran into her at a coffee shop here in Seattle about balancing music and family.

I had actually been planning to attend a benefit concert for her next week, as she was struggling deeply since her own daughter, Arwyn, died at the age of 23 in July. It was suicide.

As I understand it, Arwyn had good care, but medications were not working for her. And so literally in a heartbeat, she was gone.

After she died, a thoughtful group of Seattle musicians did what they do well. They arranged for a series of benefit concerts to support Teresa’s recovery from losing her beloved daughter. But nothing was giving her relief from her pain. All of her tried and true coping techniques weren’t working.

So, in late November, Teresa also took her own life.

Mother and daughter gone in 5 months. To depression. We sometimes forget that depression is a life-threatening illness.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times I have thought I have had enough. Really. But as one person observed, “people don’t really want to leave their loved ones; they just want to be out of pain.”

Grief work is some of the hardest to negotiate. Even if we know the stages of grief and can identify them in ourselves, it doesn’t necessarily make things feel better. There is a lot of trudging through involved. And letting go. And kindness toward yourself. And patience.

I think this is at least partly why my own mom died young. Within a few years she lost her entire family of origin: Dad, then sister, then Mother. She was lost without them. As crazy as they made her sometimes, she was deeply connected to them, and had trouble defining her life outside of them.

So, when the grieving times came, she drank. A lot. And smoked. A lot. I suppose that is it’s own kind of suicide. Then one day, she was gone.

This is the chorus of a song I wrote this year:

Love is as close now as it will ever be

and hatred is painfully near

These are the choices we make every minute

Choosing to love through our fear

In this season, many of us are revisited by grief. It surges in waves at times like Christmas and New Year. It may even feel like a tsunami is building. It is the dark season here in the north. That certainly doesn’t help.

We should expect it. Not in an “oh god, I know I’m going to be miserable” way. But in not being surprised if or when it shows up. We can look at the wave coming in but not dread it. We can let it lap onto our toes, cold and unwelcome as the Straits of Georgia. We can remember our pain, experience it, and then send it off with the outflow of the wave.

Because guess what? Our grief does not have us. Grief is something we have. Among so many other welcomed and unwelcomed emotional guests, grief is not the king of all emotions. (Though it may try to establish a kingdom from time to time.)

That is the good news of the day. Love is as close now as it will ever be.

Now, let’s take a good long walk outside and listen to winter birds, let the dog sniff around a bit, and say YES to living today. 

(With prayers and light and hope to dear family and friends of these two beautiful women.)

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