Last Friday I decided that I had made the transition from mourning to grief. It seemed that I was spending almost as much time looking forward as looking back, so that was good. Then over the weekend the grief just threw me for a loop, nearly destroyed a whole day. I realized my analogy for this trip hasn’t been quite right.
Somehow I imagined this as a trip to a summit of some kind, but now I realize it’s the opposite.
We were already atop the hill in the home we’d built over the years when the lightning hit, taking her and destroying that home, reducing it to ashes. For three months I’ve been stumbling around in the fog just trying to avoid getting trapped in the debris, and waiting for the view to clear so I can figure out where I’m supposed to be going. Friday I finally got a look at the view, and it was a bit staggering.
I’ve somehow managed to stumble down to just above the treeline, and realize my destination is in the valley below where my friends still live and wait for me. There I can begin to build a new place for myself. This summit is ruined forever, there is no going back. Across the valley below lie hills yet unknown. Between the treeline and the valley below there are heavily wooded hillsides, so down I go.
Once in the woods, you lose your perspective. It’s easy to get lost and go in circles here, where the memories of the last thirty years swirl like a mist. In the woods I realize I am not alone. My companion is grief, and it hunts me like a hungry wolf. During the mourning, grief was a constant heavy presence, but now it’s more complicated. You can go long periods thinking you are free of it, and then suddenly, for no obvious reason, you are completely overwhelmed by it. The first time that happens is a real shock, but you soon realize it’s always lurking in the shadows, even when you aren’t really aware of it. It’s tempting to linger among the memories, but lonely, too. Lonely and dangerous, for these woods belong to the grief, not to you.
So you press on down, and somehow make it into the valley, to the shell of a home that mocks you with it’s superficial resemblance to you old home, and it’s emptiness. And if you are lucky like me, friends reach out, and give you care and space all at once. In that contact, you can find hope that the world has indeed gone on, and waits for you to rejoin it. After months of mourning, it’s easy to get overly optimistic for a moment, and maybe even a little healthy to do so. Maybe I’ll get through this faster than I thought. The trip down to the valley didn’t take so long after all.
But then, every night, in your room alone, you hear the wolf howl. It calls for you, both the grief and the memories. You could try to avoid it by walking away from the memories. You could go back into the hills and let the grief take you in order to keep the memories, maybe for a little while- but once you do that it’s hard to come back out. It seems like this is a time of decisions.
I know I need to go on, but I need those memories too. They are a part of me, they define who I was and how I got to be who I am now. I’m not going to live in the past, but I’m not going to forget it either. I can’t hide from the wolf, but I can’t surrender to it. I’m going to have to tame it.
The company and care of my friends can sustain me, keep me looking to the future. Over the while, I will bring the table scraps of their kindness with me back into the woods and seek out the grief. We will explore those memories together until I can look it in the eye, and call it home, for it is mine.
When that big dog is finally ready to come home with me, we’ll be able to start exploring the new country on the other side of the valley together. And we’ll both be able to sleep at night.