The Sorrow and Pain That Bind Us
I have been a student of grief for over 50 years. On a personal level, it began at my
mother’s death when I was 21 years old, with lessons continuing to be offered over the
years through the passing of other family members. On a professional level, during my
career as a clinical psychologist, I counselled many clients who lost loved ones and
accompanied them with shared tears on their grief journeys, often over long periods.
And after retirement, I have continued to meet grief as a volunteer at a local hospice,
teaching courses on Mindfulness to bereavement and palliative care patients as well as
sitting vigils with patients close to death.
So I think it’s fair to say that I have seen grief “up close and personal” for a long time.
And yet, when my daughter‘s unborn son died from an umbilical cord accident the day
before her scheduled C-section, I was again a complete novice, just another beginner on
the voyage of grief! All my previous personal and professional experience and
knowledge did not inoculate me from the pains of losing little Bowen, the grandson I
would never be able to hold and delight in his squeals of laughter.
Grief is one of life’s great equalizers – no one escapes it, and no one sails through it
emotionally untouched. One of my favourite characters is a fellow who goes by the
name of Wavy Gravy. He was one of the MCs at the Woodstock music festival in 1969,
and one of his quotes that holds much truth is his portrayal of our common humanity:
“We are all bozos on the bus, so you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.”
I understand Wavy Gravy’s conclusion to be one of acceptance, accepting the reality that
we are all just humans who will experience the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows of
life. Each of us, as one of the “bozos on the bus,” will be pushed to meet grief in our own
way each time it arrives. Grief is that undeniably big, messy, and chaotic process that
forcibly resists any attempts to be tamed or mastered. It can make you feel fearful,
paralyzed, lonely, angry, confused, isolated, or all of the above – often within ten
minutes! It is painful – often incredibly so – there is just no getting around it.
And just when you think you are ‘over’ grief, you experience ‘re-grieving days.’ Days
when acutely experienced grief re-emerges months, years, or even decades later during a
special day, holidays, or without any particular cue or prompt. Grief demands your
attention on its own schedule.
Difficult as it often is to be with grief, it is undoubtably a challenging but necessary
human condition. There is no escaping the loss experience, so the question becomes,
how will you meet it? I have found that to meet grief, not attempting to harness or
control or manipulate grief, is the appropriate, respectful, and healthy attitude needed
to be with this demanding experience. The therapist Megan Devine wisely concludes:
“That’s the real work of grief recovery . . . finding ways to live alongside your loss,
building a life around the edges of what will always be a vacancy . . . Recovery in grief
is a process of moving with what was, what might have been, and what still remains.
None of this is easy.”
“None of this is easy” is so true! And because it is not easy, it takes courage to meet and
develop a different relationship with grief and bereavement. But as the artist and writer
Mary Anne Radmacher stated, Courage does not always come like a lion’s roar.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again
tomorrow.’” That, too, is an act of courage to nurture!
Dr. Gordon Wallace retired from his clinical psychology practice in 2017
and has taught Mindfulness to hospice clients since then. He has been
practicing Mindfulness meditation for over 30 years. His daughter, Rebecca
Lewis, lost her unborn son, Bowen, in 2018.