“I finally seem to be accepting it”, my dad said last night. His voice warm, close, and caring in my ear, despite the distance of a continent’s span between us. “What?” I said. “That you are old?” We had been bantering, as we always do at the beginning of a phone call, about aging, eating, getting through the day in whatever form it found itself to be for that particular day. “No.” He said. “I feel that I am finally accepting that your mother is no longer here with me.”
My mother died 19 months ago, shortly after my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage. A sudden death, even as it came at the tail end of a protracted time in the company of “Mr Parkinson”, as she used to say. In retrospect the signs were obvious, the body no longer willing, and the spirit ready. At the time, none of us really wanted to see it fully or even planned for such a precipitous end. It seems, however, that my mother had. In the year preceding she had diligently kept a daily log of her physical and mental struggles, thoughts, memories, reflections, as well as many instructions. In doing so she left my dad a book to live by, and a book to guide him through the year following her death. A year and more of coming to terms with her loss. Often, during this time, when I’d call, he would recite what she had written for that day, the year before. What she had been thinking about. What instructions she had left him with. The abiding instruction being for us to care for each other, and that she would always be waiting for him. This, now gives him comfort, and allows him slowly to start living again. Many a time in the past 19 months he has told me that it is difficult. The day has been filled with grief and the experience of loss. He had also always insisted that this was absolutely correct to be so, for how could it be otherwise? A life and a love and a loss so great needs time to be felt fully, time to fully be with, to be completely and viscerally, grieved for. Time to find its own way to a new equilibrium, to a new way of being. And now after 19 months he can truly say “I still wish to live to be 100. There is so much more to be seen, to experience, and to do!”
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross famously described the steps we may traverse through in processing grief – those of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I have observed many, including myself, move through these stages of grief in varying ways, not necessarily always in a straight line. Not everyone gets to acceptance. Acceptance is the gift of being able to finally live in the present. To accept this moment as it is. Perhaps even with all its grief and loss, and make some new sense of how to be fully here, for now.
Even though we may think all of this applies just to the great loss through death. We all experience many losses each and every day. From losses perhaps of opportunities, dreams, friendships, illness, through to life changing events, and even life threatening illness. All of these need time to process, grieve appropriately, live through and find a transformed way to be able to be here with this new reality.
For me, I find that moving through the spectrum and process of mourning and grieving can be facilitated if we perhaps have some knowledge of the tasks that may be involved. I have found the work of J. William Worden instrumental in this as he set out more than 25 years ago the four tasks that may be involved in doing this work: 1. To accept the reality of the loss; 2. To process the pain of this grief; 3. To adjust to the world without the loved one, or the loss experienced; 4. To find an enduring connection with the lost person, or loss, in the midst of embarking on a new life.
We may often flounder in this work. Especially if we think it should happen naturally and become impatient that we don’t feel any better. Grief work is just that. Work. Like any other. But as we take on this work and move through the process we may find ourselves in a new place without even anticipating it. So just be here, for now, with this grief. Give it your full attention and respect. Hold on to it as lightly and as gently as you can. With extreme kindness. And in the process you may live yourself back into life and into living.
Wishing you much joy for today as you fully live each moment, no matter how much loss and grief you may be facing.
One of my favorite poems describes this process so well:
Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart And try to love the questions themselves
Like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue
Do not seek for the answers that cannot be given
For you would not be able to live them
And the point is to live everything
Live the questions now
And perhaps without knowing it
You will live along some day into the answers
Rainer Maria Rilke