Thursday, June 08, 2017

Grief was my Teacher

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I can remember the exact day my life bottomed out, the day I knew I would be a different person forever. June 17, 2014. It doesn't really matter what happened, maybe another day I'll share the details. Trauma is weird that way. You have to talk about it to heal from it, but not necessarily on the internet. ;)

I wandered a cemetery in Puerto Rico last summer. The kids were enamored with an old open grave, ooooo-ing at what could be the story behind it. 'I think I see bones! I think I see a ghost!' I laughed at their conversations. Once they had seen everything they had wanted to see, they wandered away and explored something else. But I found myself lingering, especially by this statue of a woman, hunched in grief, clutching a wreath; mourning a loss almost impossible to bear.

I knew how she felt.

I raised my camera and took several shots. It was hot and humid from a rainstorm moments earlier. My Tamron lens kept fogging up. We had to catch a plane home soon but for that moment everything was quiet. Just me and my camera. The cemetery was empty and my thoughts were full. I found another statue. A woman, head bowed in prayer, clutching her rosary in clasped hands. Age weighing heavily in the statue's face, weathered stains adding to her mournful look.

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Grief has exposed me to another dimension I didn't really know existed. Or rather it removed the blinders so I could finally turn my head and see it on my left and on my right. Grief over lost dreams. Grief over lost trust. Grief over lost certainty. Grief over loss of faith. Grief over what was hidden in plain sight. Grief over new realities. Grief over the past. Grief over the present. Grief at what might be in the future.  I feel odd at remembering my life before--how invisible grief was to me.

I remember a few months after everything changed for me being in the dentist's office. He told me I might need a root canal if the antibiotic he was prescribing me didn't work. I have always been deathly afraid of oral surgery, maybe because I've never had it so the unknown frightened me more than it should. But in that moment I wasn't afraid anymore. I knew what real pain was; this oral surgery would be nothing in comparison. I was stronger now, less afraid. I remember being surprised at my calmness. Grief had been my teacher. It taught me to not be afraid.

I would never go looking for grief. I'm not a masochist. But when it became my constant companion I learned to eventually welcome it. To sit with it. To stop shoving it away and pretending everything was okay. It's okay to not be okay. Grief wouldn't be my constant companion but she was a long time companion. She was the teacher I never wanted and never knew I needed.


Jonathon said...

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

I was reminded of the poem by Robert Browning Hamilton (which now seems to me a bit too sing-songy and light for its subject matter):

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for the poem Jonathon. I actually really like that.


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