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We can grieve and work at the same time.  In fact, we must.

When a death occurs, we immediately move to tend the body, inform the community, prepare to gather and feed the mourners. It’s a false picture to imagine the bereaved having nothing to do but sit around crying. The time right after a death is filled with unavoidable activity.

Post-election with the triumph of Trump so many of us are having a death experience. We imagined that the values and aspirations expressed – if not lived – when this country was founded would surely prevail. We could not imagine that a man who … well, you know the list of all those he has targeted with the most repellant words and actions.

We might be tempted to dissolve into our own private grief and shock. Some of us might even have the protection of privilege to do so if we, say, are white or a Christian or live in a blue bubble. But to move through the death experience work is required.

This idea of grief and work going together is not abstract to me. Ten days after my partner John died in a car crash, I had a job interview. I’d just helped John through a work transition and he was helping me through mine. Now he was gone and I felt my very survival depended on getting this job. I went for a second interview and labored over my test assignment. I started that job 31 days after John’s death. In the immediate aftermath, I worked and I grieved. I am not special in this regard. This is the norm. The necessity of lives changed by death demand action.

So what is the action to take?

There is no one action to take, no magic medicine available. To move through this national death experience will requires a whole ecosystem of actions. Some more heart-centered and focused on immediate support. Others strategic and electoral to move us toward the greater vision we have choice to keep working toward.

I don’t have the answer on action, but here are some offerings out of the grief experience

Listen to and Support Those Who This Death Experience Impacts the Most

People want to rush to make the grief disappear. The grief is not going away. You can’t make it go away. Better to listen to it.

On my morning drive, I heard the lesbian feminist African American writer and activist Barbara Smith say that now she knows she is a third class citizen and that she would not be smiling at any point today. A first action step for those of us not on Trump’s target list is to listen to the devastation that his election has created.

As you listen to individuals and organizations most targeted, you will hear requests for action to be taken. Do what is requested. Sign up for national action lists like Color of Change or Showing Up for Racial Justice. Reach out in your local community to mosques or immigrant organizations. These are just examples.

Don’t Let Your Grief Keep You from the Good

My sister is a good grief companion. Talking in the early hours of the morning, she said, “I am going to take one positive action each day to counter the messages of hate. I am going to sign up right now for the community meal at the church in support of the refugee family we are sponsoring. I can do this.”

Gather with others who are committed to the good to find the energy and inspiration to move forward.

Go Through the Fire

There is no way out. We must move through what has been exposed by this election’s results. No, we can’t escape to Canada. We have to clean up our own mess (and they don’t want us anyway).

What we are facing is not a new reality. And the deadly implications of inequality are already well known by the communities targeted by Trump. But those of us more privileged are now having to face up to the results of trying to sweep under the rug the systemic impacts of enslavement, genocide, and sexism that were the realities behind the values and aspirations that were just words in our founding documents.

This morning I woke looking for a quote from James Baldwin I’d recently read and remembered as inspiring. I returned to the words and found them to be more sobering then I remembered, but also more necessary.

“If we – and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others – do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophesy, recreated from the Bible is song by a slave is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time.” James Baldwin

We did not achieve Baldwin’s vision in his lifetime nor yet today. We are now in the fire. There is danger and death here. Hope may be irrelevant. The rainbow invisible.

But Baldwin’s exhortation to Love still stands.

I have been surprised to find through my grief experience that Death does not end Love. And I don’t mean the kind of romantic, every-thing-is-happy love, but the Love that tells a harsh truth or weathers a betrayal and still opens a river within us to follow its flow forward. This Love demands risks. This Love will no doubt drive us to make mistakes. But this Love is not destroyed by Death and calls out to us to recognize it lifting even from the fire and follow it to act for the good of the whole.

Yes, we can still choose Love.

There is no heaven

The white dream waits

for me to enter. The rabbit

runs through a field of nettles,

burdock bends in the wind. I follow,

find the room without walls.

No boundary, just wild weaving

in green stem and white-pin flower

along your blue shirted shoulder.

We stand there in the where –

a dream is always now and never –

while a wave in love with itself

and the chase, crests, falls

into the sea, the shore, the broken shell.

You fell fast. I didn’t hold you.

Each dream has its own dreamer –

white dream, red dream, purple, blue,

all the way down to the black,

the dark waiting

to bring up

the new.

 

Published in Spillway 23 

Hollow bones

of birds may hold

the Self sundered

from the body.

Some hint

of light departs

from twisted metal

to seek the lift

of lacy struts

tucked up in hawk’s wing.

 

I have no way of knowing

but I saw the red-tail rise

from where you died, those Bitterroots

can’t have you for forever.

Hawk circled

high and away,

a dark speck becoming

Sapphires, becoming mountain,

becoming

 

Published in Pilgrimage; Vol. 39, Issue 1 & 2

In some places,

silt over loam

the death of a field

and ferns covered in dulled-silver dust:

ghosts caught between the green world and the dead.

 

 

In other places,

the land stripped to bedrock

barely a place for root to take hold

soil slipped away

and our suppers with it.

 

In these places where weather and water upend

our hungry counting of squash in the field

ripe tomatoes

a pumpkin’s blooming

 

Our voices, too, ebb and flow

no longer innocent

and not today tender.

 

Published in The Kerf 2015

Before the Language Comes

 

                                    Sick of those who come with words but no language

                                    I made my way to the snow-covered island

                                                                                    Tomas Tranströmer

 

A language without words forms at seam of earth and sky

its first sounds are

snow melt

 

It swirls at edge of day

dark

and we do not want to enter

 

We crave our old words

Christmas cold

May’s apple blossoms

 

But heat loosens hold

between letters, each one to the other.

 

We shift in soft beds of sweat,

watch letters descend:

 

albedo

drought

moulin

tide gauge.

 

Reach for them.  Breathe

in and out, then mixed

and maybe lucky,

they’ll form

that prayer

we need

to take us

down.

 

Published in The Kerf 2015

Now Spring

Something rises from river, the melt,
mad movement over rocks
spray of water grasps light
and winter’s hard rim,
last ice ledge,
falls
in.

Is this grief?

No,
it is the river
and you standing
at its verge.

 

Published on Red Rose Review, Spring 2015

Going to Sun WaterfallThe essential insight I have to offer is this:  Grief changes.

You change and the grief changes, and it all flows, yes, like a river with its white water and frozen edges, its quiet stretches and unfamiliar banks (though some surprise you with their beauty). Then the river reaches the ocean, and what you thought you knew dissolves again.

Is it too dramatic to say that I beg you to remember that grief changes? Still, I make this plea.  Remember this when your emotions rise, when someone gives you advice, when you learn about the models and phases and essential truths of grief, even when you read my words that follow.

Because when you loose the one you love, you will hear things; they might terrify, they might comfort, but either way try not to be too attached to the feelings that rise.  Because change will have its way with you, and you will move again out into the water – with all its turbulence, with all its nurture.

When my partner John died In November 20121, I found myself immediately in white water; out of control, banging my head on hidden rocks. Desperate to right myself, I started reading down the shelf on grief at the library. Over and over again I read, “You will grieve forever.” This strikes me as a dangerous statement to make to the newly bereaved because when my loss was fresh I was utterly broken inside. I stood as my least resourceful self pulling these books from the shelf.

In those days, “you will grieve forever” pinned my life to a board of pain and I didn’t have the imagination to see anything other than that board bobbing and sinking in dark waters.

I struggled against this statement offered as truth. Wanted to say, “No, I will heal.” I looked and found the root of the word heal connects back to the idea of whole. I wanted to be whole again. But I wasn’t sure how. I needed something steady to stand on to start the search for this wholeness.

Because, yes, you do need – you can have – something to support you in the waters of grief so almost as much as I want you to remember that your grief will change, I want you to forget that there are no maps to grief, that no one grieves like you, that each grief is unique.

Grief, after all, is well-known terrain. Its pangs come only after birth, sex, and death on the list of human adventures we undertake or into which we are thrust. Surely, there is a story that resonates with yours and shines some light into the darkness that holds you. Maybe you would feel less alone if you heard that story.

The current in grief literature that emphasizes individual healing without timeline or clear markers grows from a positive impetus: to release us from following the straightjacket of a model or a proscribed timeline.  We are free then to grieve as we need.  But freedom is not our essential need at the beginning. We are too free, released from the known life and tumbling. The need is for places to rest. Yes, we still tumble, but we can find resting places to gather our strength in the stories of grievers from across the ages and across the street.

When John died I heard all these stories from people that I knew but hadn’t met. They told me about death in their life. Only then did I meet them. These stories helped me. A woman whose teenaged son had died told me about the strange and unavoidable pain of the grocery store, that this was the place where her heart cracked as she passed by the peanut butter jars. So when I tried to take the tea from the shelf and couldn’t, I understood, I knew, I felt less alone.

The Gods and Goddesses, too, might tell you their stories. You don’t need to believe. Belief is flimsy before death’s stirring of oceanic emotions untamable by the mind where belief lives.

I had beliefs. At John’s memorial circle, I read, “there is no birth, there is no death.” This resonated with my belief in the indestructibility of energy and the continuation of spirit. But then the days of absence followed, unexpected and utterly undeniable. Experience slapped my face: there was Death.

DGT IsisBut then there was Isis. When her husband-brother Osiris is murdered, she is wild with grief and seeks his body. Twice she works to bring him back to life. The second time she reassembles his mutilated corpse into a whole with a spark of being and conceives a child. Death overtakes her, but she makes something new from its reality. As I spent time with her story and her energy, she worked her magic on me.  I, too, had taken a journey to claim John’s body, and then had to reassemble -that is to re-member – who he had been and who we were together. Out of this, I wrote. Just words at first, but then they took the form of poetry, Tarot rituals, musings on nature. I, too, took something from Death.

The Isis tale is often told as one of her conquering Death, but this is not what I see in the story now. In the end, Osiris does not return to the land of the living. He becomes the God of the Underworld, welcomes the dead to their new dwelling. Although ruler of the Underworld, he is a green God who is also remembered in spring’s rebirth that comes out of the rest of Death.

Isis releases Osiris to his new calling. Though she sometimes visits him in the Underworld, she remains in the land of the living. She raises her son, seeks justice, offers compassion, becomes the Goddess of 10,000 Names. They continue their journeys but now in different places and with different tasks. There is no denying Death in her story. There is no denying Life in her story. There is both Life and Death and they are twined together into a knot of the everlasting.  

There are so many stories; perhaps you’ll need a different one to support you. You might need to see yourself in the mirror of the Greek Goddess Demeter who sits unmoving and brings the natural world to a halt when her daughter Persephone is taken to the Underworld. Later you might be inspired by the Norse giantess Skadi who when the Gods kill her father, storms their hall demanding that since they have taken him from her, they must give something in return: laughter and a husband.

Stories are dynamic. You don’t understand them as much as come into relationship with them and their invitations. They change when you change so they are as fluid as grief. They are a boat to ride in over the waves.

So that one day, you rise above to look into the water – calm or still raging – and see the fullness of your personal story. You’ll see its uniqueness – because it is true that the story of you and your loved one in this encounter with Death is utterly unique – and you’ll see its outline is the same as so many stories. And then you will be whole, not because you are fixed, but because you are part of a larger story, eternal rhythms, a cycle of Life-Death-Life. You are part of the Whole.

****

At this time, I believe this to be an early piece of a longer narrative that will include my story but connect it to others stories and examples of how to move through and with what I was calling grief for short-hand, but what I now call Love-Death-Awakening cycle. I’ll be sharing that narrative as part of my Dark Moon Circle monthly series, which will also include prompts for readers own movement to wholeness.  Sign up for that before March 16th to get the first installment.

[Image credits: Waterfall photo by John. Isis and Osiris is from the Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince.]