Lines & Strings: Forty One Years

(This blogpost by Kelly Lavoie was originally published on November 6, 2019, and is reprinted with permission.)

On the sad anniversary that’s coming up on November 18, it’s hard to know what I, of all people, can bring to the table in terms of wisdom or insight when so many are offering all at the same time.

It’s not that there’s nothing left to say. On the contrary, there is a lot left to say. No one will ever convince me to close the book on almost a thousand people who I want to know, and who deserve knowing. Not to mention every other stakeholder in this, all the branches on a thousand trees.

That couldn’t possibly be understood well enough in my lifetime, that’s for sure. So I am not going to stop trying, probably ever.

But, to me, that is about life, not so much about death. So, it’s hard to know what to say to commemorate that day.

Instead of rehashing the things we all know about the day of their deaths, I’ll leave it at this insight.

When grief overwhelms us, whether we are anticipating the loss of our own life or living with the loss of another, we can pass through the dark realms of the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space. We may feel forsaken as Christ was. Fearful, our body is empty and haunted, walled off from all that we have ever cared about. We can be plunged into numbness, with the very life squeezed out of us. We can drown in the cold and churning waters of sorrow or be blown like hot dry dust in a desolate landscape of depression. We can inhabit the hot exhausting dullness of mind and heart of a world without meaning, a life without purpose. We can try the patience of friends and be an embarrassment to others with our maudlin repetitiveness and self-pity. We can feel heavy with guilt or contracted in shame. We can resent the shallow and defensive reassurances that “this too will pass” or that “there is no death.”

Grieving is a landscape that is so varied and so vast that it can only be discovered through our own most intimate experience. It touches the one who is dying, those around a dying person, and those who survive. No one escapes her touch nor in the end should we. The river of grief might pulse deep inside us, hidden from our view, but its presence informs our lives at every turn. It can drive us into the numbing habits of escape from suffering or bring us face to face with our own humanity  (Excerpted from Being With Dying by Joan Halifax Roshi).