Last week’s essay was overgrown, and needed some heavy pruning, as is often the case. But I hacked away one paragraph too many, one that belonged on the vine, not in the virtual bin. The axed paragraph was the crux of the matter: why I wanted to write about loss.
Thankfully none of the replies to last week’s post contained these words: “I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, how awful etc. etc.”, or anything like it. I was relieved, because sympathy is of no value to me whatever. Empathy, now and then, is of some use, but sympathy reminds me of so much sticky red clay clinging onto a bogged truck. Donkey’s years ago in the desert I came across a grader driver who had driven across what looked like a small, damp clay pan; but turned out to be a soak. An unusual feature in a desert perhaps, but this one spot drained moisture from a wide bowl of small hills, something like quicksand I guess. The grader dropped so far that the driver could step straight out his door onto the red boggy clay. I tried to drive around him – I needn’t tell you what happened….. but I believe he had to leave the grader there for some weeks until it dried out and a bigger machine could be brought in. I travelled the same way some time later and the hole in the ground where the grader had been was deeper than me! Sympathy is just like that to my mind: it stops you in your tracks, and only a great heaving effort will take the conversation upwards again, wrenching all involved away from the precipice of self pity.
So, sympathy is certainly not why I wrote last week. There were two reasons. The first is that throughout the time I have been writing Rejoice, since late 2009, this is where I have come to figure things out. I write to understand myself, and my readers keep me honest.
The second reason is this: Loss is a dying art. It has become a taboo subject in today’s world of unending achievement and limitless progress, where we bust a gut to impress, sometimes deceiving even ourselves. Loss is a subject that is so overlooked that we have become illiterate; lacking both language and opportunity to observe our graceful defeat.
There are several ways I have tried to engage with loss; I share them here with any others who might also tread the downward path. And many do! To live is to loose, after all.
Here we go:
Denial. As useless as it is obvious. Every truth I deny remains utterly untouched by my denial. Like mozzies on a dark night denied truths will hang around as long as necessary, just waiting to sting you and suck your blood! Don’t bother with this one.
Sharing. This doesn’t work so well either, in my experience. The human subspecies that will listen to your story attentively, (not concentrating instead on their own counter-story which just happens to be heck-worse), is critically endangered. I’ve not seen one in a while! A strange outcome when I do “share” is that I find myself talking down my own grief, reassuring the listener that it’s not that bad after all! I don’t understand this dynamic, although I have felt it often enough. Why do I need to reassure everyone that I’m just dandy?
Writing. I journal every day – in patches admittedly. I go well for months, and then I stop, and pick it up again days or weeks later (or months.…). A valuable habit, it brings structure and reflection to each day. I try very hard to avoid whining in my private journal. Many years ago I did not understand this rule, and I had a good old whinge about a few things between the covers of my book. I re-read it a long while later, and was flabbergasted at the sorrowing, introspective tone I am capable off. Never again.
Music. I love to listen to good music, almost always in the classical genre in which I was raised. We have a lovely room with a wide view and a cracking set of speakers. Music seems to explore my soul. I still play one wind instrument too, the Shakuhatchi. It’s minor pentatonic scale is a beautiful, wistful and deep way to concede change. Rather than being mournful I find it prayerful. Music is momentary, the expression lasts only as long as a note. Paradoxically, acknowledging my grief this way, bound to the present moment, leads me often towards the greatest gratitude and joy.
Silence. There are two flavours: personal and corporate. It takes concentration to be silent, our instinct is to fill each empty space with something; our phones, screens, television, radio (my own favourite noise); but if I do concentrate on silence and concentrate in silence, I meet myself in the most reassuring way, and the person I meet seems whole and sound. It can take time, and it can take repeated attempts to quiet your own soul; but it is, eventually, reliable and profound
Corporate silence is deeply lacking in our world. In conversation with a pastor from our church this week he mentioned that the one element occasionally included in a service that invariably leads to comments and even letters of appreciation is silence. I think we need to be silent with others, but it is one of the most awkward things to achieve. I’m hopeless with empty spots in a conversation, and it was a long road to learn to sit with people in silence. When I used to meet with grieving families as a chaplain there were very few words I could offer that had more value than attentive silence. Silence: people do it poorly, churches do it even more poorly, we should practice this deep gift.
Encouragement. This is not something you can readily seek, but now and then a friend – or occasionally something more remote, like a passage in a book – will offer you a few words that have power to reshape your outlook, to lift your chin, to bring a smile again to your heart. Be patient, it will come.
Tell me your story…..