“The pine tree seems to listen, the fir tree to wait: and both without impatience: they give no thought to the little people beneath them devoured by their impatience and their curiosity.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Like the changing of the seasons, grief is an inevitable part of our lives.
The fact that we are alive means that at some point we will, most likely, experience the loss of a loved one, whether it is a family member, friend, co-worker, close acquaintance or pet.
Testimonials, interviews, blogs and autobiographical books from those who have lost limbs or who have undergone a mastectomy, from those whose kidneys have failed or those who have lost their sight show how they too grieve the loss.
Those whose bodies are compromised in any way by disease or age also grieve the loss of good health. Those who go through separation and divorce, a miscarriage, those who enter retirement or even those who have lost touch with a cherished dream, experience grief on a personal and profound level.
Like an unwanted and unexpected visitor we can never be ready for it, even if we watch someone fighting what appears to be a losing battle with illness and it seems the end is near.
Grieving is a natural reaction to loss and the emotions that ensue are a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, mostly downs. Grief unfolds, for the most part, to reveal a definite pattern.
Denial and anger shifts into bargaining with God, then depression, before moving on to the final stage of acceptance. This long and winding road can be made more tolerable if support is available. It will always be a very personal and individual journey as we all deal with loss in different ways.
For me personally, after losing my sister and father within 16 months of each other, there followed a period of dormancy where I was numb and, seemingly, stagnant, often-times brought to my knees grief-stricken, over-flowing with hopelessness and despair.
Long days spent alone in nature with the trees and the sky, with the brooks and the birds and with the ocean continues to give me the distance I need, the perspective I need to heal and to move forward.
I’ve noticed in early summer, new growth on young pine trees that is very distinct and can be easily seen from afar. Young and delicate, this new growth emerges and gives the appearance of vulnerability, almost as if it might compromise the whole tree as it is tossed about by the elements.
It is a continual stage that the pine tree must go through in order to survive and thrive. In time, this new growth strengthens and protects. It becomes the tree—bigger, stronger, more beautiful than before and better able to withstand the storms of life with each new day.
Unseen, its roots have gone deeper and are gathering new reserves of strength for the coming days and years of its life.
So it is with grief.
It was in this quiet, numb stage that I slowly began to gather strength that, unknowingly, would eventually propel me into the next stage of my spiritual growth. The pain consumed me as I was lost on waves of grim distress and slammed against the shores of reality.
I had no way of knowing how long the icy chill of grief would keep me secluded or when my growth would start to become visible to others and myself, or that I was, in fact, growing at all. But, I was growing. All the while I was gathering reserves of strength.
Bitter, hurt and angry, after what seemed like forever, I re-entered the world. I went forth with my open wounds for all to see. It seemed that parts of my very soul did not survive and, in fact, died with them.
Analyzing myself, as I so often do, I have come to understand that grief is growth and that growth is supposed to be good, although it feels anything but good.
A mixture of all the emotions humans are capable of feeling comes crashing through the walls of sanity. It had the initial feeling of dark, morbid ugliness and I often began to lose hope.
It was in those long, painful moments, when time appeared to have slowed down just so the hurt could linger that much longer, that I became acquainted with both my physical mortality and my spiritual immortality.
It was in those horrid moments that the love of God was being drawn into me, through me and all around me.
I could see more clearly the infinite worth of empathy, compassion, kindness and sympathy as my very consciousness became one with the Universal Consciousness that I call God.
In retrospect, it began to reshape my thinking. I started to develop a more intimate relationship with God as I went forth into the world with new eyes. I was awakening.
I began to discover moments when I was concerned with things other than my grief. I was becoming a new individual, a better individual. Not better than other people, but better than I was before. As the days passed, I slowly learned to co-exist with the loss.
We perceive grief as having the potential to inflict permanent harm. I don’t know whether it can or not, but I do know that it has changed me forever. I do know that it inflicts permanent change and change is growth.
Parts of me will never be the same, while in other ways I have grown exponentially. It has strengthened and protected me against new hurts. It continues to teach me many things and reminds me of the impermanence of all things.
The pine tree that represents my life is vibrant and strong, bursting forth with both a firm resolve to exist and a quiet, placid happiness.
My roots have gone deep into the inexhaustible well that is God and, spiritually tall and strong, I have become deeply entrenched in our life-sustaining earth, ready to face another day, though the hurt still remains just below the surface.
Some things I have learned through grief:
1. There is no way to prepare for the inevitable outcome of watching loved ones wrestling with a terminal prognosis. Perhaps because there is always hope as long as someone is alive that we shut out the thoughts of them dying.
I’m not sure, but when it happens—as in the case of my sister Jean spending three and a half months in hospital before she died—it’s no less a shock because she had been sick for so long.
2. Support, support, support. I cannot overstate the importance of a support group. It is critical that one is surrounded by love and comfort at this terrible time. Without family and friends, some I hadn’t seen in ages, I would not have come through it as well )Iuse the term loosely) as I did.
3. Don’t keep emotions bottled up. Let it out. It probably goes without saying that we should do this and most people are an emotional wreck anyway, but some others are less inclined to open up and let their thoughts be known. One only prolongs healing and acceptance of the situation when taking this route, even though it may seem like the right thing to do at the time.
4. It is important to work through it, with others, as well as sometimes by myself and to give it time. I kept a journal of my thoughts and wrote some poetry as often as I could.
5. Emotions surfaced that I never had before and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. For me personally, prayer and meditation helped tremendously. While prayer is talking to God, meditating is listening to God; both are invaluable.
6. Watching my loved ones pass from this world into the next awakened something inside of me that, up to this point, had been dormant. Focus on now! Losing them reminded me of how fragile and how fleeting life is, and how, no matter if I’m sitting on the side-lines or actively participating in life, it’s still rushing by in a hurry.
I’ve made a choice to slow down, to live and to strive to be happy right now. I’ve stopped worrying over silly things. Making a concerted effort to disconnect from the small things that once brought me misery has been a great lesson in liberation. I no longer feel like I’m on the hamster wheel.
7. Wallowing in guilt about things I may have said, done or left unsaid or undone is every bit as toxic to my mind, body and spirit as an unhealthy diet, perhaps worse. It is perfectly normal to reminisce and recall good times and to just remember.
Actually, it is quite necessary for closure and for peace of mind and is a natural part of the human experience. It goes without saying that we enjoy remembering them. But, clear out any guilt.
8. The pain of the wound becomes easier to bear, but time will not have its way with the scar.
9. It is important to do things in memory of those who have passed on. It is very important to love and appreciate those who remain.
10. I have learned to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I count my blessings daily and know that I am rich beyond measure.
I have planted a young pine tree on the front lawn of our newly built home. I will enjoy watching it grow, especially throughout the summer as the distinctive, new growth emerges.
It’s my understanding that it is stronger than it appears to be.
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Editor: Steph Richard
Photo: Brian Johnson