To say that we must confront our grief may be too harsh. Perhaps what is more helpful is to engage or “enter into” a deeper appreciation of what is; to be so courageous as to mingle with our grief so as to find the texture and nuance of it. The closer we examine it, the more intimate it becomes; the more of our own it is, and the less ambiguous and vague. We can hold our grief; rather than our grief taking hold of us. We can know it so that it can inform us of what is most precious to us.
During the exploration and within this intimacy we learn that we can not only tolerate our pain, but we can transcend it, and see it for what it is and what it is not. It is “only” pain, it is not bigger than our love. It is a reaction to the illusion that love is lost. When we realize that we are holding the memory of our loved so close that we have memorized the texture of their skin, we can draw the contour of their face, recite their favorite stories, and know how they would respond to a question we pose, we know without hesitation that they are present. We know that joy and sorrow, love and grief can coexist at the same time.
When I pay attention without judgment, without pushing away what comes up, I am present to what emerges and that seems to me to be the gift of the struggle. When I sat with my father without looking away from his anxiety of not being able to breathe deeply; without reacting to his displeasure of being stuck in an ailing body…when I sat with him without an agenda but just with my full presence…I experienced and reflected to him that he was more than a failing body or an exhausted spirit.
We sat together, as his life was ending, with both joy and sorrow, love and grief. We held it all, together.