No shortage of differences exists within the human family. Sadly, these differences are often exploited instead of celebrated. The natural and divinely orchestrated diversity of humanity is often used to create separation and division- the “us and them” mentality that leads some to believe their humanity somehow supersedes that of another. No greater delusion exists as the humanity we share elevates and reduces us to equals.
Despite inherent differences of born of genetics or the manufactured divisions of race, religion or any number of self-identifications, we all think, feel, act and have an experience of life. Our shared humanity brings to each of us difficulty, pain and the inevitability of change and loss.
Grief is called forth by loss, the antithesis of the deeply rooted and core instinct to bond. Attachment and bonding ensures our survival from the onset of life. Loss activates a primal panic- the deep existential anxiety born of the terror of being apart from rather than a part of. As a result, grief elicits compassion; a function of limbic resonance too powerful to ignore in all but the most sociopathic among us.
Once life begins, each passing moment is a step toward its ending. The years from birth to death are filled with numerous changes and endings, each necessary for the unfolding expression of the purpose in our being.
Often the pains and difficulties of life are brought forth by the losses we endure, yet, these losses in the words of Judith Viorst are necessary. We must lose the comfort of the mother’s womb to enter the world. The carefree years of childhood give way to the responsibilities of adulthood. We must leave the home created for us to create our own. The passing of our parents ordains us leaders of our lineage. Entrusted with the light of the ancestors, we assume responsibility for illuminating the path for successive generations.
These necessary losses are expected and tolerated with greater ease than those deemed unnecessary. Certainly the loss of a young child would fall into this category, yet many, despite unbearable pain, find meaning, purpose and often mission through such tragedies.
John Walsh serves as an example. I am also reminded of the lesser known story of Azim Khamisa, whose son was killed by a fourteen year old boy. Khamisa, a sufi Muslim, relied on his faith for solace. Forgiveness came after reaching the conclusion that “there were victims on both ends of the gun”. He befriended the grandfather and guardian (Ples Felix) of the boy who killed his son and both often speak together to prevent acts such as the one that ended the life of Khamisa’s son and earned Felix’s grandson a 25 year prison sentence.
While certain losses may serve as exceptions to the general rule that “this too shall pass”, the pain that accompanies loss is governed by the same cosmic law of impermanence. That is, unless we resist the grief the process.
All undesirable emotions compel us toward corrective action. The sadness and pain of loss obliges us to grieve; a process which usually begins with shock and disbelief followed by a roller coaster of mental and emotional experiences that can include guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, reflection and isolation.
Efforts to cope leave us susceptible to addictions of varying kinds and displaced anger may compromise relationships. We may seek irrational deals with God or anyone to avert the loss. At some point we are capable of grasping the reality of the loss which ushers in memories of the past. During these times we may prefer the company of our memories rather than supportive friends or family. This may be the most difficult part of grieving as defenses are stripped away and the loss is fully realized.
As periods of depression and reflection are experienced they give way to relief; a lifting of the burden loss places on us. While the process is not over, we may begin to see light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that is grief. Grief may hold us tightly in its grasp however life continues its forward motion. The upward turn as it is referred to marks a certain re-engagement with life and the responsibilities and tasks of living.
As one door closes another opens. The disorientation brought on by loss gives way to reorienting oneself to a new life, new roles, new responsibilities, new relationships and new experiences; a rebirth that allows one to find and experience the joy in living again while peacefully, lovingly and joyfully holding the memory of what or who has been lost. The doors that open can be fully embraced provided we have gone through the necessary process to make peace with what is past.
Time is an ally in accepting and adapting to loss however many remain burdened the by passing of a loved one or a lost love years later. Time alone does not ensure adequate processing of grief. It is a journey to be consciously and courageously embraced. Un-grieved losses hold us frozen in time clinging to an aspect of our lives that has served its purpose, bestowed its wisdom and invited us to continue the work of the soul…whatever that may be.
Perhaps it is to devote the remainder of one’s life to bringing criminals to justice. Perhaps it is to help youth avoid the perils of gang life. Perhaps it is to experience and model for others the joy can be experienced in the years after raising a family and losing a life partner of nearly fifty years.
The divisions and separations we create for ourselves pale in comparison to the power and depth of our common humanity, especially in matters of grief and loss. We are well served to embrace it and not avoid it; for the experience is universal…and necessary. Loss demands of us that we grieve. In doing so, we are able to make peace with and hold in reverence the past and open ourselves to the new experiences awaiting us.