Grief Can Teach Us These Three Surprising Lessons

It shows us that we have to start living.

Courtesy of eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock
Courtesy of eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

I am standing in the emergency room with a din of activity swirling around me. I peer over to the heart monitor which has now flatlined – it is as if I am observing these events through a rip in the middle of a sheer white curtain – as everything in my peripheral vision is now a blur. I stand perpendicular to the stretcher laid vertically with my husband laying dead in front of me. I am only 31, and have just given birth eight weeks prior – my body still healing from the trauma of childbirth.  Seventeen stitches now hold me together, no medication as the baby came too fast, and only laughing gas to take the edge off the pain. 

The fragile container that my body is now housed in – cannot contain the pain that has ripped through it – and it is as if it has expelled my soul – and I am now firmly out of body.  I am observing these events and my mind and body are incapable of processing it.

I look at my husband’s face and I stroke his fingers and they are still soft and warm. He could still hear me then. But by the time the nurses brought his personal effects in the white plastic bag to give me, and once they laid the white cotton sheet across his body, his soul had already left. The essence of my husband was gone, and the body was now an empty vessel.

Grief created a psychic cavity that nothing could fill. My grief stood like a medieval city with no walls, no fortress, no army—alone and vulnerable. It was traveling and spending copious amounts of time in nature that allowed me to see that all of creation was rooting for me. My husband died at the dawn of spring in April, and, in the days that followed, I felt almost betrayed by Mother Nature. She didn’t seem to acknowledge my pain and grief. Her blossoms bloomed, and she seemed to come alive when my very soul felt crushed under the weight of an avalanche of intense pain. I was frozen in the cold death grip of winter in my heart, even though outside it was spring.

Most of us don’t realize how little time we have to live. We think we have endless days or years to make changes we need. We think we’re young and invincible, that our life cycle will follow a certain musical structure and rhythm, a set of rules and patterns around which we can plan and create a family. We depend on that rhythmic structure—a delicate balance of stressed and unstressed beats in an orchestral performance—to bring meaning to the cycle of life. We are educated in these rhythms. 

Children are born to two loving parents who rear them into loving adults who then procreate and then have grandchildren, and so forth. We are used to a system of procreation and ancestry that preserves our history, culture and memory—certain syncretized elements that hold the compositional patterns of our family, such as our genetic makeup, or voice and hair. Ancient systems of classifications were put forward based on linearity and direction. Time and the seasons move in a linear fashion. We have come to expect a pattern—within the context of weather patterns, culture, history, and preservation of our heritage. 

In the months that followed Garfield’s death, I realized I needed to live life on my terms, doing the things that brought me real happiness and joy. The only chance we have is the here and now. You have today, and you will likely have tomorrow, to live like you mean it. Don’t wait for an unspecified time in the future to do “it.” Don’t wait until you have to bargain and negotiate for something that is entirely out of your control. 

Our education system teaches about linearity, not about what to do when this linear pattern breaks, not where to look for resilience, not the art of recovery from disruption. Knowledge that you are living your life well is a resource you can draw on well into your final hours. 

Consider the questions asked by acclaimed author, choreographer, and director Bill T. Jones, who was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2014 by President Barack Obama. He choreographed a dance and later gave his memoir the same title, Last Night on Earth, based on the loss of his partner to AIDS. In the dance he speaks to the audience directly from the stage: “What time is it? . . . Can you at this moment look in the mirror and be alright with it? . . . Are you doing what you want to do right? . . . Have you located your passion as if this was your last night on earth?”

Excerpted from Holistic Wealth: 32 Life Lessons to Help You Find Purpose, Prosperity, and Happiness by Keisha Blair, with permission from the author and publisher.

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