Dealing with Grief

I am much more acquainted with grief than I used to be, and now that I’m acquainted I have a different experience reading about grief. I’m going through the Odyssey again and this time I’m really noticing how the Greek’s mourned and handled mourning. Reading the descriptions I can think “yeah, I basically know what that is like” and I can enter into that part of the story much more that I have before. And I know that nearly all the original listeners could have similarly related, at a deep level, to the sorrow felt by Menelaus on learning of his brother’s murder, or of Odysseus’ mourning the death of his comrades and his long years away from home. But their mourning was not like ours, grown men and mighty warriors throwing themselves to the ground or sobbing uncontrollably in public, with no shame. Really, they knew how to mourn and we do not.

This burden that we live under, we like to think that it has been lightened by science and medicine. And we have made real improvements. But the burden is still there and in some ways the lie that we’ve softened it only makes it worse. We are not in control, we are subject to forces compared to which we are ants and grains of sand. At least the Greeks knew it!

But, also in the Odyssey is the idea of lessening the pain by forgetfulness - the release of sleep and the intoxication of wine. These are temporary and not permanent, but even so I just really find the idea of dealing with pain by forgetting about it distasteful. I mean, I understand - death and broken relationships and betrayal and evil are these crushing weights and how could we ever look them in the face and stand up under that weight? Part of my distaste might be that temperamentally I couldn’t look away even if I wanted to. I especially remember a particular counseling session where I was talking about how I hang on to pain and my counselor said “wow, you’re going to be hurt by the world”. And oh, was he right. I just hang on rather than letting go. So maybe I am just trying to turn my dysfunction into a virtue.

But if I’m going to live in this twisted, terrible world, I don’t want to have to cope by pretending it is better than it is. I want to sorrow and grieve but still have the courage to stare it in the face and know that it didn’t break me. Only that sounds impossible. As small and weak as I am, how could I not be broken?

This is not the kind of post where I tell you I’ve figured out how to do that impossible-sounding thing. But the thing that gives me hope is Hope itself: a hope in the final victory of Good over all the crud that we go through down here; a hope that Life is as much stronger than death as death is stronger than me.

I’ll leave you with a song that expresses this crazy hope, and the confidence I’m searching for.

No comments: