heatherfromthegrove’s New Year’s Revelation No 4 of 7: Surviving that undertow called Grief


“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.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

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.”

Washington Irving

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.”

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

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.

Some Book Recommendations:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion


Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Lossby Pat Schwiebert



*Note:  The title of this Blog, “Surviving that undertow called Grief” is the title of Volume 3 in my Baby Boomer Series™ of books (in progress)

Photo via flickr.com




My Books, My Friends


“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face.  It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.”

~ Edward P. Morgan

When I was a young girl, my mother would often call out to me and say “Your friends are at the front door.  They want to know when you’ll be going out to play.”   From my bedroom,  where I was curled up in my armchair like a content puppy — nose deep in a gripping novel, I would shout back (adjusting my glasses, as I did so): “Tell them I’ll be out as soon as I finish this chapter!”  Ten chapters later, my mother would peek around the door and say “Go out and get some fresh air. Your friends will begin to think that you don’t like them anymore.”  Reluctantly, I would put a bookmark in my book and then, very lovingly, place it down on the side table.  I’d walk past my mother, who smiled and shook her head (did she actually roll her eyes at me … really?).  

Many decades later, nothing much has changed.  With a few exceptions.  My mother died over seven years ago and I miss her so much that it hurts.  My childhood friends still live in Canada (while I now live in South Florida).  But, we still keep in touch.  Thank goodness for Facebook!

As fate would have it, my husband likes to spend some time in the company of his own mind, as I do.   So, when I get lost inside my head, reading a thought-provoking piece of fiction or non-fiction, I am rarely interrupted. 

Virtually every room in our house has bookshelves filled with books.  Every possible discipline — from literature, biographies, history, law and philosophy to engineering, architecture, music and art.  And everything in between.  

They are not there for show.  I say this because a few people (not readers themselves) have actually asked whether we truly read them!  We read them.  Some, we’ve read over and over again.

“The scholar only knows how dear these silent, yet eloquent, companions of pure thoughts and innocent hours become in the season of adversity.  When all that is worldly turns to dross around us, these only retain their steady value.”

Washington Irving

When I walk into a room full of books, I am filled with a sense of comfort and well-being.  I know every single book that is in the house and each is alphabetized and organized by discipline/category. 

Libraries are sacred sanctuaries filled with knowledge — private libraries, public libraries, university libraries …. all of them!  That wonderfully musty smell of old leather and paper, the silence (you can hear a pin drop), the rows and rows of books … it’s heaven.

“A good book is the purest essence of a human soul.”

Thomas Carlyle  (excerpt from his speech in support of the London Library, 1840)

Reading is not only good for the soul, it exercises the mind and helps reduces stress. 

Yes, my books are my friends. They are the gifts I treasure most. And, as a writer, they never cease to encourage, challenge and humble me.