Grieving in Place
Grief. There are stages. We've all heard that. I know them. I googled them just today in curiosity and with a bit of hope. Perhaps reading through them would launch me through them. Denial. Bargaining. Depression. Anger. Acceptance. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Success!? Fail.
Of course, these stages do not reflect the grieving process of everyone, nor are they meant to. They merely suggest that grieving is a process and they attempt to do what humans always attempt to do (need desperately to do): contain and explain. I get that. I want my grief contained and explained. No, that's a lie. I want to want my grief contained and explained. But, I don't. It's been over a month since a devastating and senseless act of violence took someone from us and covered me in this blanket of grief. But, instead of wanting to move on, I want to stop and sink into it. I want the world to stop with me. I want permission to draw this blanket of grief to me both in anger and in comfort. I want sackcloth and ashes. I want people to know it hurts. I hurt.
Stages of grief suggests that there is something to work toward. There is a goal. A finish line. And, just at the suggestion of a finish line, I do everything I can to speed up (and perhaps you do to?). After all, if you're not first, you're last. But this, this grief, it means too much to me somehow to move through it too quickly. I don't want to hide. It feels disrespectful to her life, to the loss of it, to myself, to you, to us, to God.
Jewish tradition calls for its people to properly mourn the loss of a loved one and provides a roadmap for so doing. I am not Jewish and my knowledge of Jewish practice is extremely limited. My understanding is that the process is meant to honor the life lost and the grief felt in response to that loss. But, it is also meant to facilitate and promote healing by setting boundaries to mourning. This begs the question of whether mourning and grief are one and the same. I think perhaps not for me. Mourning feels like an expression of grief. Maybe we need to properly mourn loss to create space for grief to transform to something less like fear and more like hope.
After burial, the Jewish tradition calls for Shiva:
The world was created with humanity as its focus. This took a full cycle of time: seven days. When creation is reversed and the human soul returns to its source, that, too, is marked with a week's cycle: the Shivah, seven days which the closest relatives devote exclusively to mourning the soul's departure, and the extended family, friends and community comfort them with their presence, their empathy, and their words of consolation.
I find myself drawn to the beauty of this practice and the sacred space it appears to create for mourning. Shiva calls practicers to stay at home (a reflection of the loneliness in loss), to sit in low chairs or close to the earth (a physical adjustment to one's lowered emotional state), and to burn candles for the entirety of the seven days (attesting to the presence of God). Other mourners come to the home of those who sit shiva bringing food and the comfort of mere presence. Of course, there are many details to this tradition that I do not know or that I may have misinterpreted (you can read more about it yourself here). But, these symbolic acts speak to me. They seem like a defiant response to a culture that asks us to pick up, to move on, to grieve in a way that does not disrupt.
Christianity brings comfort to me. The Episcopal liturgical tradition brings comfort to me. But, in this grief, I desperately want something akin to shiva. I'm not Jewish, but, man, Jewish tradition seems to have this one right. I want to know that others know what to expect from me. I want to know what I can expect from others. I want to mourn this loss in sacred space held for me by family and friends and a structure that exists apart from me to hold things together when I cannot. I want to mourn defiantly and in a way that honors life, respects my need for the world to stop, and reminds me of the presence of God even when I want to deny it. And, then, I want mourning to come to a predictable end. I want to get up, walk out into the air, and marvel that life indeed goes on.
With all this in mind, I'm going to sit in this grief and mourn a little longer. I'm going to cling to this loss a little longer, so that I can let it go a little easier in the future.