Illumination III: Deep Grief

Once again…interesting times this pandemic.  At this age and stage of life I didn’t expect to be changing my routine in small but significant ways.  I didn’t expect that using this “gift of time” to clean out my files and possessions would leave me in touch with my impermance and wondering how my life mattered.  I didn’t expect that creating archives for the business I founded and ran for 20 years, now successfully in the hands of my step children, would put me in touch with both the joys of the accomplishments and the loss of those incredible joys.

I have been unashamedly grieving each day, allowing the tears to flow, and giving them permission to last as long as they need to.  I don’t like the fact that I seem to be getting in touch more and more viscerally with the fact that I am going to die. But that’s the truth. I want to put things in order.  I’m letting those tears flow.  And it is a relief. This is a major emotional transition.

I don’t know if others give themselves that same permission to just grieve deeply.  Fr.  Richard Rohr has provided some essential wisdom to me and I want to quote a paragraph from his daily meditations:  Reality Initiating Us…Life is Hard.

“I’m afraid that many of us with privilege have been able to become very naive about pain and suffering in the United States and the Western world. We simply don’t have time for it.  However, by trying to handle all suffering through willpower, denial, medication or even therapy, we have forgotten something that should be obvious; we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us–in deep and mysterious ways that become the very matrix of life and especially new life.  Only suffering and certain kinds of awe lead us into genuinely new experiences.”

We don’t know and can’t judge how others feel their losses.  Those that seem small to us, are large to others.  Certainly the loss of certainty is stressful to all, as is feeling  out of control.  Some have an easier time discerning what they can control, and just start with that.  “Today I made my bed, and made a healthy breakfast and helped my son with his schooling.”  It’s what I call the “three successes a day”  approach.

For me, letting tears flow through what I don’t even know what, is my way to clarity and relief. I learned how to “feel, cry, be angry” during several years of participation in a wonderful program available locally, ReEvaluation Counseling. (RC), a kind of peer counseling.   I feel badly for those who block their tears, for fear of being seen as really a mess.  My RC approach is always:  “Crying is not necessarily a signal of mental illness or depression.  It is a signal that you need to cry.”  It always seems to be therapeutic.

And so, while I’ve been surprised at the amount and level of deep grief I’m experiencing.  I’m not afraid of it.  I am looking forward to what this grief and this suffering will teach me and what kind of space my “letting go” will reveal for my remaining years.  I find myself surrendering to the normal cycles of life change.

Perhaps my words can help you relax into your own grief–especially if you can’t exactly name it.  These times are hard in so many, many, ways.

The first
great lesson of life to learn
is that winter will always come…
the human winters of despair and loneliness,
or disappointment, or tragedy…
The major challenge
confronting those surrounded by winter
is to not let it affect the arrival of spring
and our ability to recognize
that arrival.

~ Jim Rohn  

Illumination II – Choices

Daily life consists of choices. It always has. 

Now that I live under the new rules of a pandemic, my awareness of the choices I am currently making are sharper, clearer, and more conscious. 

  • After rejecting a mask, I am now choosing to wear one. 
  • In the wake of the YMCA pool closing, I am finally choosing to build an exercise regime at home.
  • After allowing many tedious tasks to languish on the back burner for years, I am now choosing to tackle them and feel good about it.  
  • As a solo ager, no spouse, no children, nowhere to go and “nothing” I have to do, I am choosing to live in flow each day and enjoying every minute of it.  (It helps if you are an introvert.)

While I am not a wealthy woman, in the last few weeks I find myself acknowledging my privilege.  As the daughter of a very thrifty mother who put herself through college during the depression, I pay all my bills each month.  I am safe in my senior residence and I am food secure. My awareness of privilege becomes more stark as the pandemic illumines the long term injustices and inequalities in other elements of our society.  Ones which I have never had to suffer.

And now, I’m receiving $1,200 from the government.

Somehow this did not seem OK…for me… right now.  I am haunted by the pictures of those standing for hours in lines around the block at food pantries.  Therefore, I am choosing to put this unexpected gift to work at the Providence Ministries Food Bank in Holyoke.  I feel better.  Who knows what other choices lie around the corner?

Another friend feels good about repurposing her “going out to eat at a restaurant” funds to a local Rescue Mission.

Another friend made a similar choice when her senior check arrived . “I don’t need it.  How can this money be more useful?” she asked herself. After some inquiries she located a Tibetan acquaintance in NYC whose daughter had an old broken down computer which didn’t give her access to her new online school arrangement. My friend’s donation solved that problem, served one child, and made the donor very happy.  

Our choices matter.

It is said, “We’re all in this together.”  Yes we are.  And everyone has some way to lend a hand. For ourselves, our children, our families, our neighbors and for our communities.

In my case, taking care of myself and honoring my own gut intuition, was strongly linked to giving something to others. 

You have more choices than you think.

Illumination I

At 80, I live in a senior residence, heavily practicing a policy of no visitors, receiving meals in our rooms , physical distancing at the movies with only 8 allowed in the room, and exercise classes transferred to Zoom or YouTube.  How fast things change!  

Over two weeks ago, when I last posted on March 14th,  none of this was on my radar.  Fifty people had died and 3000 had been diagnosed. The President was saying it would be over soon.  And I was reflecting on kindness and helpfulness needed in tough times, and how acts of service tend to rebound as gifts to the giver.   Rereading my previous post on Kindness, I notice the calm naiveté of my temporary ignorance.

Since then, we’ve definitely seen kindness and helpfulness of health care workers in amounts we couldn’t have imagined, exhausting these givers.  Our death toll now approaches 5000 and our diagnosed 185,000. At this moment the apex, our high tide, has not even been reached. 

What about the rest of us staying home?  We’re coping with change and loss, overwhelm, anxiety and this new lifestyle,  in our own idiosyncratic ways.  Where has our “normal” gone?  

And what will we do now and next?

“Aging can be understood, affirmed, and experienced as a process of growth when the mystery of life is slowly revealed to us.”  —Henri Nouwen

My word of the day has become ILLUMINATION.  The rapid spread of the pandemic has catapulted us/me into “mystery”. In these uncertainties, what awarenesses are we/am I  growing into? 

Some  of my friends are learning how much they need connection, finding themselves calling friends they haven’t talked to for a long time, and asking themselves, “Why on earth did I let this go?”

Another discovered that when her “busyness and connection” was removed by the stay-at-home order, a simpler life, the kind of life she realized that she had always wanted, emerged.  That recognition was both surprising and satisfying and got her thinking about how she wanted to structure her life today and in the future.

Another, whose retirement travel plans were dashed, didn’t know what to do with herself.  Confused and anxious, she realized she was missing the important routines that had previously grounded her satisfying work life. Thus, she returned to her morning schedule of decades:  Exercise, meditation, shower, coffee, and off to whatever is next.  An important acknowledgment for what her life must include.

For another,  the “go home and stay there” direction removed a lifestyle made satisfying by in-person connections.  Neither online nor phone dates were really doing it for her. When loneliness moved through reflection to  awareness, the sadness of her present days, newly faced, offered her a new question to contemplate:

How can I honor my needs and desires?   How can I reach out and create a more conscious life around ‘who I am’  and ‘what I want’, both DURING the current challenges, AND, when they pass?

“Time in the desert soulscape will reveal  to us who we are and what we really want.  In one sense we might even say that the desert—a place far removed from community and the busyness of everyday life—is the region where all heroic journeys begin.” 

                          —Mary Reynolds Thompson, Reclaiming the Wild Soul