“After desolation, grief brings back our humanity.” — Mason Cooley
I’ve been thinking about the phenomenon of grief and bereavement, and how closely it’s related to love. The extent of it is a measure of our love and its presence in our lives isn’t something to be shunned or swept under the rug.
This is the idea that grief is not bad, nor is it necessarily negative. On the contrary: it’s a witness to love.
At my grandfather’s funeral mass a couple of months ago, the priest quoted his own family member when she said this to him about grief: “You hurt to the degree that you have been loved.”
You hurt to the degree that you have been loved.
The most painful grief becomes a witness to that love you gave, and that love you received in turn.
More than that, the love you shared while living doesn’t end with death. It only changes with time, insight, and the courage to keep on loving. It goes from love to grief and back again, ten thousand times over, until grief and love are one and the same.
Spiritual beliefs aside, the priest’s sermon on the importance of grief and love was something that could speak to us all. “I command you: love one another.” Powerful words.
Love one another: the (unofficial) mantra of the holiday season.
This leads me to this idea that’s underpinned the last nine-ish years of my life:
If we look at things in the right light, we’d see the gifts that even grief can plant in our lives.
Here are a few of those, as I’ve seen them.
(I wonder what fruits have grown from the roots of your own grief… ?)
Gifts of Grief (An Incomplete List)
Perspective is how we see our lives playing out. It’s how we see ourselves showing up for it. It is the meaning we give to each painful and glad experience.
One of the greatest opportunities to figure out who you really are comes in the wake of your greatest loss.
That severity of pain shakes you awake, forcing you to take a good look around the room. It’s a world at least partly shaped by how you see it and you might decide that it’s time for a little rearranging.
Stepping into grief is one of life’s precious “second” chances.
It’s a time to reflect and reevaluate what’s important to you. It’s a time to reconsider how you’ve been living your life (do you want to keep going that way?) and how you want to be remembered by others.
It’s also a chance to find value within your own self. (That love is irreplaceable.)
Death is a lesson for the living.
Approaching that deep, ugly pain is going to teach you way more than giving it away would.
Feeling your grief is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but living that experience fully means that even if everything else in your life is “taken” from you, you still feel you have something which is untouched, kept, something more essential, and deep.
That something is your perspective. Your attitude. Your memories. The heart of who you are.
Even though you come out of loss hurt, you can grow and you can learn and you can give.
You love a little differently each time, yet each “new” love is a testament to how flexible you’re willing to be. Each time you choose to love again — to grow better instead of bitter — you’ve turned an otherwise negative experience into one marked by compassion and courage. It takes such strength to be bettered by loss.
If you let your wounds make you wiser, that is a gift of grief.
If you take your pain and turn it into love of some kind, that is your gift for someone else.
If you practice forgiveness, you learn how to be more courageous and generous with your love, not only in the realm of your past but in every single moment.
“True forgiveness is not an action after the fact, it is an attitude with which you enter each moment.” (David Ridge)
We each have our own regrets, fears, weak points, and hopes… but in so many ways, we’re the same. Heartbreak shows us that in full force. Whether we let the experience harden us or break us out of our own shells is a choice we have to make for our own selves.
If we let grief shake us into kinder human beings, we wake up to our own shared humanity.
We wake up to what binds us together as people. We see the light in each other even when we can’t agree with each other. We find community. We find sources of love everywhere. We learn that giving isn’t a loss to us, but another gift.
This is how, through grief, you develop strength so deep nothing in the world can rob you of it.
The priest who led my grandpa’s mass-finished his sermon with this sentiment:
“The ties of friendship and love do not unravel with death.”
This is something I’ve found to be apparently true, though it took a while for me to realize how true it is.
I hadn’t expected me and my brother’s relationship to keep growing after he died, but it did and still is. I half-expected the same when my dad died five years later, but like with death itself, you can only be so prepared for the most profound experiences in life.
It still surprises me that my relationships with those who’ve passed are still alive and well.
To this day, I have conversations with them and somehow, somehow, in my heart of hearts, I know I am heard. I know their love is a witness to my own.
This has been one of the greatest gifts of grief I can attest to When someone you love dies, the love you shared doesn’t end. It sustains you.