The Well of Grief
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief
turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.
Where Many Rivers Meet
My mom would have been 80 last week. And Mother's Day is fast approaching. It's a time that still triggers a lot inside of me, even though she died three years ago. Today, I find myself at the bottom of the well of grief. Again. It was somewhat expected, but hey, as much as I anticipated the sadness, I see that I can't totally plan for these heart-rending days in advance.
I understand my resistance to feeling the sadness. It becomes lethargy - trying to cope, trying to convince myself that I'm fine. Well, I'm not fine today. Today, the little girl in me is wailing for her mommy. After years of dealing, I'm turning down below the surface - yet again - into that black water that David Whyte talks about in the poem above. I never quite understood the last line of this poem until I lost my mother. I do want something else. I want my mom back.
The grief coach part of me understands that I had an ambivalent anxious attachment to my mother. Let's just say we had issues. I keep hitting the "replay" button in my memory about how relieved I felt to drive away from her the last time we parted. What hurts right now is I can't press the "replay" button in life and redo that last time we spent together. I know I would have held on a little tighter, opened my heart a lot wider, and told her how much I loved her (and meant it).
I understand the process of letting it go. It doesn't make it hurt any less right now.
So, I get out the tools of my trade and work with them. I comfort myself. Cry as long as I need to. Hug the dogs. Play music. Go out for a walk. Phone a friend. Give myself the gift of forgiveness for the judgments I am holding against myself - and my mom. Do a reality check on the guilt. The truth is I'm a loving daughter who was always doing the best I knew how to do. The other side of the coin is that she was doing her best too. Always. I just miss her and feel my heart aching with the longing to talk to her just one more time.
I'm grateful to say I climbed out of the hole I dropped into. I did, in fact, use my tools, hugged the dogs, cried all my tears, worked in the garden, played music, and called on my supportive network. I talked and talked to anyone who would listen. Expression truly is the first step in healing.
And I did find those small gold coins at the bottom of the well. Let me tell you about them. They are not shiny, they do not gleam enticingly, but they are precious as they are hard won. My gold coins are the gifts I gave myself during the time I spent in the bottom of the well, pouring my grief out into the water.
- Letting of guilt. I acknowledge the ways I honored my mother and my love for her while she lived;
- Peace. I understand that she chose not to have my brother and I with her as she died because she wanted the dignity of her process. She did not want have to bear our pain on top of her own;
- Acceptance that I am strong and resourceful and I will be ok without her;
- Appreciation of her as an extraordinary being;
- Gratitude that she lives on inside of me.
I spent a week down at the bottom of the well of grief. It could have been a LOT longer. If you find yourself stuck in grief, it can be a dark and scary place. You might not know that you can get out, never mind how to do it.
The "secret water" is learning that you do not need to grieve your loss alone. My life's calling is supporting people through steps of turning down below the surface, finding the small gold coins, drinking the secret water, and re-emerging to climb out of the well and go out into the world a changed, but stronger person. I can be there for you because I know how to be there for myself.