Grieving Those Who Are Still Alive

If you cannot depend upon those you love most deeply "being there" in your greatest time of need, on what may you rely?
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During this season known as Holy Week, the story of crucifixion and resurrection is retold many times over. Religion aside, what is it about this story which returns us to the theme? Hidden beneath historical accounts resides an archetypal pattern, alive in our psyche today, regardless whether you are a "believer" or not. The story to which I am referring is universal, beyond denomination. It is a story so powerful that to miss the metaphorical meaning, is to miss a map to our own expanding well being.

Look around you. As the world spins further out of control, we reach for bedrock. It is easy to point to world affairs and name names, cite evidence, that our future is in question, that what seemed to offer relief seems dead, entombed, inaccessible.

Surely, it is only human to look to the outer for salvation. We search for that mysterious something that will get us out of our mess. But as long as we "pin the tail on the donkey" on an outer savior, we are doomed. At these junctures of awakening, it is our limited belief system that gets nailed to the cross. And it must, if we are to transform our lives into experience of greater wholeness, joy, and rebirth.

Unfortunately, the Garden scene precedes metaphorical Easter: that time in our personal lives when we feel betrayed. Our own "Judas" comes in infinite forms. Perhaps we feel betrayed by our parent, or sibling, our child, or our friend, our career, wallet, or health. But, however it comes, in that dark night, we feel truly forsaken. In this night, we will pretty much do anything to have "the cup" of this terrible suffering be lifted. Anyone who has truly transformed his or her condition or circumstance, and evolved through it knows this place. It is hardly a good time. There is hardly a quick fix, no long-lasting short cut.

We seek comfort from the familiar when facing the inner tribunal of our own self-criticism and despair. Often, what consoles is "that someone special" whose voice, presence, and listening ear brings the needed reassuring balm. So when they vanish from our lives, physically, emotionally or spiritually, this is a crucifixion to our ego. What we believed would always be so, in our lives, is dead, or so it seems.

When the one you seek is A.W.O.L. Unfortunately, the very person we seek may be the very person who's absent. Perhaps their body remains, but their presence is absent within their own living tomb. Not infrequently, this sort of absence happens at the time of physical death. The following description from Paul, one of our readers, illustrates it perfectly:

I think the fact that I had to deal with my mother's depression for about 40 years had some bearing on things. I was 11 when my brother died, and 13 when my sister died, so I had a long time to deal with it all. I guess the best thing I got from it, was a pretty strong sense of independence.

My mother admitted to me, when I was in my mid-20s that she had pretty much given up on living. How sad that was. It was then I realized that I would probably have to leave her behind, and just go on. Not even the birth of her grandson brought any spark to her.

Bookshelves groan under the weight of books on grief. What's not mentioned, however, is grief for the "living dead," the folks who become living zombies. Like Paul's mother, they leave their children, and others feeling doubly abandoned.

As Paul describes, when the child loses their sister of brother, they lose their primary caregiver, as well, regardless how well intentioned. Our notions about security get crucified. Believe me, I understand. As a child I witnessed this when my mother lost my baby sister on Christmas. Years later, I witnessed this in my own little girl, when her brother was killed. Yes, it's hard on the parent to function when the heart seems amputated at the grave. But, just as terrible, is the plight of the child who feels ditched during their greatest time of upheaval. Ask me how I know. Ask Paul. Despite good intentions, there is the "hole in the room" that is palpable, even when said parents "rejoin their bodies" and healthy grief work is underway.

What develops is a crisis in faith. If you cannot depend upon those you love most deeply "being there" in your greatest time of need, on what may you rely? (More on this when I return April 18.) For now, let's consider an antidote, which is a practical spiritual practice anyone may use. It goes like this:

1. Every time you become aware of a thought, feeling, memory, or upsetting imaginary conversation, which arises in you, take a breath. Seriously. Breathe.

2. Now, practice the following three step practice:

  • a. Say to yourself: "I accept this (thought, feeling, memory, or upsetting imaginary conversation)."

  • b. Say to yourself: "I bless this (name the above)."
  • c. Say to yourself: "I release (the above by name) into a greater love than I can personally muster."
  • 3. Call it good, and very good, that you are practicing.

    4. Practice the above as long as it takes until you feel lightness, a letting go in your body.

    5. Remember you do not have to understand how this works, just trust, with practice, it will.

    6. Enter the space where the upsetting experience has dwelled.

    7. Breathe in and out. Enjoy the freedom.

    8. Know that as you begin to feel better, you are entering the atmosphere that is your heart.

    9. Before you dismiss the power of this tool, practice this for 21 days and keep a record of your experience.

    Love Letter to the One Who Has Felt Abandoned at the Time of Greatest Need:

    It isn't fair, is it? Just when you most need comfort, it goes out the door. I am so sorry. It is hard to trust that things will get better. People say stupid things to you, right now, I know. The fact is they really don't know what to say. Nobody can fix what has happened to your heart. All I can tell you is that your feelings count. You have a right to feel angry, sad, lost sometimes, and even happy for no reason when everyone else is upset. You have a right to be noticed, to have your heart heard. You matter, my friend. What is happening now will not last forever. It will change like the seasons. By this time next year, let's see what makes you laugh, what makes you smile, what helps you feel like you are not alone. I would love to know. In the meantime, take care of your heart. Give yourself a hug at least seven times a day. You deserve the best. You are the best.

    Your turn: What helps you when your safety net disappears? What has helped you find inner strength, and, like Paul, let go and move on? I'm listening!

    New: For those who have asked, the first copies of The Love Project: Coming Home are now available in first printing. Contact me, below.

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