Whoever tells you that grief lessens with time is feeding you a load of nonsense. I loathe platitudes.
Grief never dies. The waves of shock, anger, sorrow and numbness ebb and flow like the tide.
“I was tired of well-meaning folks, telling me it was time I got over being heartbroke.
When somebody tells you that, a little bell ought to ding in your mind.
Some people don’t know grief from garlic grits. There’s somethings a body ain’t meant to get over.
No I’m not suggesting you wallow in sorrow, or let it drag on; no I am just saying it never really goes away.
(A death in the family) is like having a pile of rocks dumped in your front yard.
Every day you walk out and see them rocks. They’re sharp and ugly and heavy.
You just learn to live around them the best way you can.
Some people plant moss or ivy; some leave it be. Some folks take the rocks one by one, and build a wall.”
– Michael Lee West, American Pie
My grandfather was a lighthouse keeper… almost a century ago and on the other side of the ocean… far, far away. I wonder what he thought, all by himself – day after day – in the middle of an endless sea.
Twelve years ago, my mother and her sister (my aunt) died within two months of each other. My mother was 79, my Aunt, 86. According to their express instructions, they wanted to be cremated and requested that I scatter their ashes in the open sea – so that they would go back home to Europe. It was an honour and a privilege to fulfill their wishes. One of the most peaceful and serene moments in my life was when I leaned across the fishing boat, said a prayer and – one-by-one – scattered each beloved woman’s ashes. I said my goodbyes and wished them a safe journey. Despite the moody sky and the very (very) rocky waves, time stood still. I knew, in my heart, that the steady gaze of the lighthouse would guide them home.
“I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.”
Recent political developments in the United States have caused quite a stir across the globe. Social media is flooded with comments and rantings from both sides of the political spectrum. I myself have contributed to this “animated” discussion. But when someone (be it a friend or a family member) passes away in the middle of all the histrionics, everything screeches to a halt. It’s amazing how quickly we re-align our priorities…. because, at the end of the day, it’s family and friends that really count the most.
There will be other elections. Other presidents. What is done in one term can be undone in another. So, let’s chill out and focus on what really matters.
This post is dedicated to all of our loved ones who have gone too soon. And to the families and friends who are left behind to grieve their loss.
I love the poetry and writings of Kahlil Gibran and I always take the wisdom of his words to heart.
I hope you do, too.
On Death by Kahlil Gibran
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
“The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.”
Grief. It is an intense emotion and a very personal experience. We all grieve differently. Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest authors of all time (remember War and Peace?), once wrote that “Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow.” I know a very few people – family and friends alike – who manage to wade through their grief quickly and in a matter of fact manner. Many others, like myself, grieve deeply and over a long period of time. There is no right or wrong way to grieve… although some people do experience a level of grief that spirals them into a deep depression that lasts years, decades and, in some extreme cases, a lifetime.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
In my life, Grief has been a frequent visitor. We have a familiar routine, Grief and I. Grief sweeps into my spirit, like a Category 4 Hurricane. I allow myself to remain in the eye of the storm – daring it to make me collapse. Somehow, I always manage to survive – still standing, although somewhat bruised and battered. As American author Anne Lamott writes: “It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
It never goes away. It is always with me, to some degree. A memory, a smell, a song… can evoke joy and sorrow and then joy again – in one full sweep. This is why I refer to Grief as an “undertow” – a flow or current of water beneath the ocean waves near the shore that is powerful enough to suddenly lift you and immerse you in the next incoming wave.
“Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be. … Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”
I prefer to deal with grief privately – hugs from well-meaning people are not encouraged as I don’t like to be touched when I’m in the throes of grief. For me, it’s a solitary experience.
According to psychologists and grief counselors, there are five stages of Grief: Denial/numbness/shock, Bargaining, Depression/sorrow, Anger and Acceptance. However, as much as we want to give everything a label and a chronological order… the fact of the matter is that one goes back and forth (a number of times) between these stages. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and revisiting the stages of bargaining (i.e. what could have been done to prevent the loss), sorrow and anger. And as for the final stage, Acceptance, well … it is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow, but once you do, it does bring some sense of peace. Not closure. Just peace. And that’s what you need to survive the undertow.
This year, my New Year’s “Revelations” are based on some of the witticisms and words of wisdom that my mother and father imparted to me.
When I was young, I used to roll my eyes and shake my head at them – not really heeding their words.
Or so I thought.
They’ve since passed, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss them.
Most importantly, their words – often colourful and humorous, but always spot-on – resonate deeply with me today.
I now share them with you.
My mother used to say:
“I may be small, but I’m strong.”
My mother was 4’11” tall. She was “petite” but fierce. Her hands, though small, were strong. As wayward children, we knew her vice grip well. She could beat a 6′ tall burly man in an arm wrestling match. But her eyes, oh those eyes. When she was angry, her eyes were like steel and ice. And if that gaze was directed at one of us, we knew we were in deep trouble. She didn’t have to utter a word. Just one look.
Throughout her life, she suffered a series of debilitating illnesses – from brain clots, osteoporosis, and heart problems to multiple cancers. She was always in pain, but rarely showed it. She whistled through it. She laughed at it. She refused to succumb to it. She despised weakness and was damned if she was going to let anyone see her vulnerable.
When she experienced a life challenge – physical, emotional, family related or economic – she bore it defiantly… almost like daring it to bring her down. Except that it never did.
Even at the very end of her life, with cancer festering rapidly throughout her small body, she looked at me – smiling and loving eyes penetrating my soul – and she said “My darling girl, don’t cry for me. I’ll be fine.” She was 79. I was 45. I was not fine. I was losing the most precious person in my life.
In the years since, I’ve experienced some interesting life challenges. Friends and family have expressed their amazement at how stoically I’ve handled myself, how strong and resilient I am.
I’ve had a good teacher.
“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”
“In times of grief and sorrow I will hold you and rock you and take your grief and make it my own. When you cry I cry and when you hurt I hurt. And together we will try to hold back the floods to tears and despair and make it through the potholed street of life.” ―Nicholas Sparks,The Notebook
The unspeakable tragedy of the attack on Malaysia Flight MH17, killing all 298 passengers and crew members, has shocked the world.
192 from The Netherlands (1 of whom was also American)
44 from Malaysia
27 from Australia
12 from Indonesia
10 from the United Kingdom
4 from Belgium
4 from Germany
3 from the Philippines
1 from New Zealand
1 from Canada
The world community is united in grief for these men, women, boys and girls.
A heinous crime against humanity has been committed. There is no doubt that those responsible for this mass murder will be brought to justice.
But, for now, let us focus our prayers and thoughts on the families and friends who are mourning such tragic loss.
Below is The Lord’s Prayer, spoken in Dutch … and the written words (scroll further down) in Dutch, English, Filipino, French, German, and Indonesian (which is also … I think, the same in Malaysian).
Onze vader die in de hemel zijt Uw naam worde geheiligd. Uw rijk kome. Uw wil geschiede op aarde zoals in de hemel. Geef ons heden ons dagelijks brood. En vergeef ons onze schuld, zoals wij ook aan anderen hun schuld vergeven. En leid ons niet in bekoring, maar verlos ons van het kwade.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Ama namin, sumasalangit Ka. Sambahin ang ngalan Mo. Mapasaamin ang kaharian mo Sundin ang loob Mo dito sa lupa para nang sa langit. Bigyan Mo kami ng aming kakanin sa araw-araw At patawarin Mo kami sa aming mga sala Para nang pagpapatawad namin sa nagkakasala sa amin. At huwag Mo kaming ipahintulot sa tukso At iadya Mo kami sa lahat ng masama
Notre Père qui es aux cieux, que ton Nom soit sanctifié, que ton règne vienne, que ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour. Pardonne-nous nos offenses, comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés. Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation, mais délivre-nous du mal. [Car c’est à Toi qu’appartiennent le règne, la puissance et la gloire, pour les siècles des siècles.]
Unser Vater im Himmel, dein Name werde geheiligt, dein Reich komme, dein Wille geschehe wie im Himmel, so auf der Erde. Gib uns heute das Brot, das wir brauchen. Und erlaß uns unsere Schulden, wie auch wir sie unseren Schuldnern erlassen haben. Und führe uns nicht in Versuchung, sondern rette uns vor dem Bösen.
in INDONESIAN (and also MALAYSIAN):
Bapa kami yang ada di Surga,
Datanglah kerajaan-Mu, jadilah kehendak-Mu,
di bumi seperti di surga.
Berikanlah kami pada hari ini makanan kami yang secukupnya,
dan ampunilah kami akan kesalahan kami
seperti jami juga mengampuni orang yang bersalah kepada kami.
Dan janganlah membawa kami ke dalam percobaan,
tetapi lepaskanlah kami dari yang jahat.
[Karena Engkaulah yang empunya kuasa dan kemuliaan