Air-sucker. Heart-breaker. Life-wrecker.
Don’t take it personally, Grief, but under our breath, or deep down inside, we sometimes call you such names. We have as many names for you as for the fallen of 9/11. As for the pandemic dead. As for the people vanished in floods and wildfires. As for our cherished life partners, gone too soon. As for our precious children, ending their lives by suicide ….
We have as many names for you as our less obvious losses, mourned in shadows. Dear ones who have moved on, or away, from us. Old friends we no longer understand. Animals whose companionship we miss. Lost jobs. Lost homes and homelands. Lost rights. Lost health. Lost youth. Lost trust.
Lost hope …
It is said, dear Grief, that you’re a mountain; that each of us who is suffering after a significant loss is up at your peak, so injured that we can’t carry anyone else down. We must each descend to the plain in our own way, in our own time. The hard path we take on our downward climb will be like no one else’s. We’ll pass through terrain where nobody else has ever been.
The sad fact is, some of us will never make it back. The trauma we’ve experienced is too grave, or the going down, too rough.
It’s out of concern for those who can’t escape your mountain that I’m writing you. I know you’ll listen, and fathom what I’m saying. Because, despite all the name-calling, I know it isn’t you, really, that robs our lungs of air, or shatters our hearts, or smashes the hell out of our lives when we meet with sorrow. You’re just an easy scapegoat.
The real culprit is love. Love that, deprived of its object, has nowhere to go. Love that has been disappointed, distressed, broken, rejected, frightened, or horrified. Love so confused and without direction, it swirls up like a whirlwind and spins off in a daze. Love that, once exhausted, falls flat on the ground and refuses to rise again, believing that getting up and going on would mean abandoning forever what has been lost, as if it never mattered.
It’s love, isn’t it, that traps some souls on your peak? It’s love that corners them in a tight spot on your sheer face, and pins them there.
It’s love, too, that tempts us to stay with them, even while, for the sake of our lives, it urges us to hobble away. On this mountain, we can only save ourselves.
So, we must trust your mercies.
I beg you, Grief: Take tender care of those still on your mountaintop. Send sun in the morning to kiss them awake. Send birds with twigs to build them a nest, and berries to feed them. Send breeze to remind them to breathe. Send bugling elks and trickling streams to sing songs of comfort and strength to their despair. Send cups of rock to catch their tears.
Finally, O Grief, send our voices echoing up the silence of the slopes. Let the sound surround those whose sadness holds them close to the heavens. In that circle, keep them safe.
Air-stirrer. Heart-holder. Life-bringer.
These, O Grief, are the truest of your names.
This post first appeared in a recent issue of Staying Power, Phyllis’s weekly care package for creative, compassionate spirits. Get a boost in your inbox!