A month, five weeks or so from the burial of both my son-in-law and my nephew, reality is an every-day shock of finding those people not where they are supposed to be. It’s only just the beginning of healing. We’re still coming to terms with what life means right now without those people in it. There’s something like a permafrost of the soul that we battle through on a daily basis; to succumb totally to sadness, curl oneself up in a ball and hide in a cupboard or in some other darkness is not allowed so we quietly… endure. We don’t want to distress others by appearing to let absolutely everything go. Fortunately… well, in this context “fortunate” is only relative to what else could be… fortunately, for us, we have other people relying on us to keep going. Also, we’d really be alarmed if we just curled up in a ball. There’s no way of not participating in life even though it may be the last thing we really want to do.
With regard to the people who rely on us, there’s a duty or sense of need to be there for them. In the middle of all this sadness is the really deep knowledge that it’s the least those other people deserve. Even more than that, we know they are hurting from the loss of their father too. For the loss of their brother. It’s impossible to ignore them in their pain and we don’t want to. Before these deaths, we found a way to balance showing love to those important people to us with loving ourselves and loving other people and loving our work, our lives, our world. We cared about those things and even then it was a struggle to have the balance – but mostly the struggle was unconscious, we didn’t give it our full attention. Or, where our religious beliefs informed our daily lives, we found a way to be ok with the spread of love, the distribution of it, in our lives. Now, every other grief in addition to our personal circumstances (such as wars, the effects of the pandemic, climate crisis and surging energy costs) adds to our grief, amalgamates and merges it; swells the feelings so that we feel the need to protect ourselves even more.
Separating from the things that hurt you makes some sense and is almost instinctual; the pain of grief can drive one to retreat as if one’s life depended on it. Actually – and in some corner of our minds we know this – the retreat is temporary. It’s like we’re waiting for the storm to pass, taking temporary cover and we intend to come back out into the world as soon as it’s safe enough. It makes sense to retreat from a daily or hourly diet of world news and social media when we’re feeling so tender. But what if, instead of looking for more distance from well-meaning friends and likewise suffering family, we decided to get closer? How would that be?
I would suggest that, taking everything in small, manageable bites and judging from day to day (moment to moment, if that’s what works) we can test this out. Our people need us and so the mantra could be: just for this point in the day I will extend myself, beyond what’s really comfortable, beyond my comfort zone in the now moment, to be with this other person who I know is also suffering in this now moment. I thought that I knew what the meaning of “compassion” was. I thought that in times of stress and grief I had first to extend that to myself and allow it – and that’s still true.
Only now I’m finding that it’s also a commitment to myself to practice an unlimited compassion with myself and others; to be better with my empathy, to be just a few degrees more tolerant in the sight of grieving relatives or clients and to provide that compassion without boundaries. When I can. Some days are more challenging than others. And that’s ok too, we do the best we can.