Yesterday I played some music for a community event called “Death and Cupcakes,” an exploration of the expression of grief. Although there were a few men in the group, it was the women who shared their stories. One whose husband died from ALS and struggles for her children to find a way forward after this devastating loss. One whose son died a few years ago and seeks to find a ritual to remember him on the third anniversary of his death. One who struggles with “anticipatory grief” knowing that someone she loves plan to take his life.
Grief is the deep emotion of mourning a loss. Typically we think of grief as mourning the death of a loved one, but I wonder if grief can be defined as any loss of love. In life our losses can mount up. The loss of an idea of a mother’s love. The loss of a dream of a marriage that didn’t work out and the love of that partner. The loss of a special pet. The loss when a child leaves the home. The loss caused by regret that we didn’t do enough for someone we love once they are gone.
One thing that struck me yesterday is that there is no one structure that we can build for healing our grief. Not only is every situation of loss different, every one of us experiences grief differently and crystallizes the experience of loss into our lives in different ways. Grief can make us feel closer to the ones we have lost. It sometimes becomes part of our story – a new identity that we take on. After my mother lost her husband the first thing she would say when she met someone new was “my husband died.” It became who she was.
Shared grief can build community. We may not experience grief in the same way, or be able to understand the experiences of others who are grieving, but we are linked in the humanity of the devastation of loss. But grief can also separate us and cause us to feel alone and isolated. No one can truly understand our process, or walk the road with us.
I awoke this morning thinking about all of this and it occurred to me that grief is like a river. A quick google search shows me that this is not a new idea. We can try to dam up our feelings – remove all evidence of our loved one so that we’re not reminded of them; keep ourselves busy so that we don’t have to think about our loss. But our grief will mount up until like a river, it cascades over the rocks which we have piled up at the doorway to our heart.
Grief is a profound experience of the soul. It can become a shamanic process of unfolding layers of lifetimes of shame and sorrow. But we can also become stuck there, unable to move forward.
As a child I was ridiculed for being sensitive and made to dam up my feelings and sadness in the midst of abuse and emotional deprivation. At the age of 29, during my Saturn return, I began my adventure in psychotherapy and the dam broke. For months all I could do was cry. I had to stop working. I was abandoned by many friends who didn’t understand why I couldn’t get a grip on myself. All of those emotions which I had bottled up for 29 years spilled out and I worried that they would never stop. They did of course, but grief is also like an onion. Just when we think we have let go of one layer, another layer emerges. And yet we must keep going and drop layer after layer until we emerge anew.
The process of grieving is different for different people and the symbolism of astrology helps us to understand why. Individuals with a preponderance of cardinal (action) signs (Cancer, Capricorn, Aries, Libra) want to DO something to resolve their grief. Those of us with mostly fixed (endurance) signs (Leo, Aquarius, Scorpio, Taurus) can tend to become stuck in their grief and find it difficult to move through it, building a story that becomes their new structure for living. Those with mutable (adaptable) signs may find it easiest to let go and flow through the river of grief, swimming around obstacles as they arise.
The thing about a river is it can’t be stopped. You can try to dam the flow, but eventually nature will win and the pressure of our grief will come through in one way or another. I read somewhere that grief is its own country – it has its own language, but there is no map. We must each one of us find our way through.