Justin and I are friends, and I’m glad he accepts me. He’s a Gemini. I’m a Cancer. He talks a lot; I listen. He wears diapers; I don’t, He’s 18-months old; I’m 33. He’s two-feet tall; I’m 6.
As we walked our late afternoon journey upon the streets of Shepherdstown on weekdays. Justin leads – I follow. He knows what he wants I don’t. I enjoy his company because he imparts to me a remembrance of the joy and wisdom of being a bright young age, I slow down a busy, preoccupied mind and let myself be drawn into his bubbly, innocent, hide-and-seek, pregnant, profound, un-intellectualized, all-seeing, vast and personal world of NOW.
Sometimes we both squat down to make waves, you could say, in a small puddle. I began to feel Justin’s concentration. We feel and think together as I listen as I listen to his labored breath and see as his cookie-sized hand retrieves one pebble, seemingly very special, which had fallen from his hand. I admire his being conscientious, of correcting a small error before proceeding with the fun. He learns through a meeting of circumstances and a wish.
He learns little by little to accept some unseen law of self that is a mystery at this point in his life. He learns to make up his own mind, to create his own world of responsibility. Walking to the post office, there are smiles and hellos from those we meet. I pick Justin up and, like any first exposure to a task, he labors at putting two big envelopes properly through the slot marked “out of town.”
It’s similar to the times at home when those trained fingers push up on the wall light switch for the first time – with such exciting and gratifying results.
I was reading a book recently by the German thinker and educator, Rudolf Steiner, in which he states that repeating an activity makes it part of a person’s very being or consciousness.
So as Justin and I find things to do around the house of Ed Zahniser (Daddy) and Chris Duewel (who is Mommy), favorite areas of interest tend to be part of a daily agenda.
Blowing soap bubbles is so regularly repeated that Justin calls me “Jim Bubbles.” There are also the regular visits from the vigils for two neighborhood cats, playing with Daddy’s guitar, washing the dishes, touching certain prickly bushes outside, and looking at the turning insides of two electric meters on a neighbor’s house.
These activities are remembered and later asked for, expanded upon, empowered, and refined by Justin. Above all, we take our regular visit to Specialty Books to see Pat who runs the store and to give another kind of “pat” to the life-sized stuffed bear named Paddington.
It’s easy to forget how enormous life is when you’re a child. It’s just as easy to remember again.
Do You. . .
Miss someone who has died? Do you miss their talking and listening, their presence, their hugs, their understanding of you, their touching, their quirks, your shared history with them?
Do you cope with this hole in your life and the sudden waves of grief that come out of nowhere by keeping busy and taking it one day at a time?
Are evenings hard because you have fewer distractions from your thoughts of grief then? Do you hate coming home to an empty house? Do you feel like a third wheel in the company of married couples?
Do you see some friends let you down and new friends surprise you with their caring and understanding? Is it hard to concentrate? Just when you think you’re doing better, you are knocked on your duff by hearbreak? Can’t you sleep because you’re afraid of what feeling might come up once you drop your guard and doze off? Do doctors put you on all kinds of medications instead of just listening to your pain? Do these medications make your feel drowsy and more out of touch? Do people come up and say “I know how you feel?” or “It’s God’s will” and cheat you of your right to grieve the one you loved by minimzing it and stigmatizing it?
I do know how you feel. I’ve been there.
And when someone impatiently says to you “When are you going to get over this grief”
Say to them: “I do not intend to get over the memory of my husband, wife, or sibling because I’ll always cherish those great memories to give me strength to face today. I do not intend to get over anything. I intend to get perspective on those years to honor myself and my loved one by living twice as well.”
Grief is from wanting something I cannot have or someone I cannot have . Absolute grief is from wanting it – or them – absolutely.
Grief can be as deep and dense as mahogany, as slow as molasses. My mind says its over while my working heart says grieving has barely just begun. My mind like wind flits ahead over all grief, while my heart, like water, carefully fills in every corner of the land of grief before flowing on. Only when my mind joins with my heart to face the grief together and honestly does acceptance and healing truely begin.
Grief is an unleashed psychic power with no home that can beat me or carry me to a mountaintop.
It is a dryness in the throat – a stabbing pain in the heart at the sight of a sunset that cannot be shared. It is bigger than I am which is the biggest learning lesson of all.
Grief is first ringed with fear. In time, it becomes just a hole, a hole in one’s life, always met with a sigh.
The hole in my life caused by my loved one’s death can be filled like a garbage can or cared for like a garden. It can be filled for a while with “why’s” and “if-only’s.”
It can be filled with anger without bounds or guilt without measure, which make it bigger until it becomes the eye of a lifelong hurricane that casts out self-respect and character and is driven by a fixation on a single event.
I grow from grief when I feel anger, guilt, shame, childishness, escape, hope, despair – only when I take care of these feelings like children in my home, patient, unreacting, breathing deep breaths.
Act from love, not so much from fear . . .
(By Jim Surkamp, Synthecizer by Seth Austen, Performed by Ardyth Gilbertson)
We learn to act from love not so much from fear. This is the key to grieving well. “Am I doing this out of love or out of fear?”
Filling the hole with forces that keep love alive becalms the hole, until it naturally becomes a small scar of a sad place within the soul. The hole heals and it is put into perspective by being filled like a rucksack with seashell like memories, of intimations of immortality, many little charmed moments, giving tears that remember a moment, instances of nature’s beauty, little puppies or kittens, children, music, courage and an awareness that suffering, as Dostoyevsky wrote, is the root of all consciousness.
I keep the vision in my heart that life is what happens when I am planning something else. I know that making my hopes for the future realistic is healing to me.
Life is moments, seconds and inches that change the course of my hopes and dreams. This is life. I am learning to dance with life in time to its beat, not my own. A death does not accept my terms. I am humbled by accepting the frailty death lays before my petty arrogance and vanity.
If more than one death occurs, I know that there is more than one grief. But one death also has more than one grief, each understood in its turn.
I grieve the lack of hugs, the lack of being understood deeply, of having lost a beloved witness to my life and history, a chronicler and appreciator of my own personal mythology.
I grieve being left alone with double the challenges. I grieve having to start over with a clean sheet of paper just when I feel too old to change.
I grieve that I am not blessed and spared after all. I am not invulnerable and have not earned by dint of great virtues of hard work, reason, and good manners a life free of any serious loss.
I grieve at the truth of knowing that shit happens, even to me. Kings die of cancer. Kings with continents become incontinent.
I stub my toe on reminders, made up of lonely moments that would have been shared – dinner, bedtime, family gatherings, the holidays, and trips to the grocery store when I realize I don’t need to look for that can or package of food our dead loved one savored so much.
Each reminder triggers an involuntary stream of consciousness review of the past in light of this profound new fact of the death. I see new sides to my missed loved one that took this death to discover. I am overwhelmed with the thought that I took our time together for granted or at least didn’t make the absolute most of every moment.
I grieve with a renewed appreciation of what more could have been. I dream of laughter at the beach from my new place alone on the desert.
All of this comes to be a belief that I must live and cherish every single moment – the moment as it is happening – with a real reverence for life, especially for each new day, with just enough good health to terrorize the neighborhood, delighting that the sun is shining on the back of my neck making it feel warm and good.
I know in the moment as-it-happens that a bottle of cold gatorade,iced tea, or water after a a hard workout in the hot sun has divine qualities. That the face of a little baby speaks volumes about being alive.
I learn this as I realize how much I took for granted the time I had with my now gone loved one. I cannot give them this belated love and joy but I must give this love for my own sake to someone or something.
If I can’t experience a kind of eternity being with the one I love I can experience my love by identifying with all of humanity.
I must give this love to myself and to those who still live, with hearty support in spirit from my new angel-guide. Many believe this. You can if you want.
Grief teaches me courage in spite of myself, and gives me a compassion for anyone who is suffering whether I want to admit it or not.
I shed my cool pettiness and cold aloofness to make way for this renewed living. I warm hunched shoulders with the rest of humanity not by myself in my once privileged, lucky little corner of the world.
By keeping the love alive I can remain open to newness and keep in check the fear that tells me to close up and dishonor the one who died by dying with them.
Grief is like paddling endlessly in the middle of a storm-tossed Atlantic Ocean, amid black thundering clouds, with waves of grief crashing over the sides of my canoe. I find that just by maintaining my ritual of paddling, I live to see improvement. The black clouds turn pale. Thunder subsides. A seagull one day is heard. And, in the distance, I see the tops of palm trees. After weeks and months, sometimes years, of holding faithfully on to my little paddle and canoe, I can at last hold onto the sandy beach of an island. To grieve and feel, I first need safety.
Because grief has diminished my expectations down to nothing and I still live, I take heart. I realize I have survived much of the worst.
The storms become fewer and further between, milder. I never forget who died, but the memories get sweeter. I have survived. I have no fear. I am a fresh garden planted with peace of mind.
Do not try to seek happiness, do not strive for external markers of inner peace of mind. As I come to know and love myself and humanity, peace of mind comes and finds me. It is a seed that cannot be forced, only cared for, just as I take care of all my emotions.
While I paddled furiously and aimlessly, the hands of great unseen tides carried me gently and surely to safety. The hands of a higher power.
We each choose to be either Ahab or Ishmael from the book, Moby Dick. Ahab lost his leg to the whale, the master of the imponderable deep.
Ahab became an emotional hostage to that event, tempted into becoming a slave to his rage. Inappropriate ego, often the source of our self-destruction, kept him from accepting the lessons of loss on terms that were not his own.
Ahab pursued the whale, bringing on his mad quest not only his skills and poisoned plan, but a boatload of innocent sailors, in callous disregard for all. “My grief is the greatest in all humanity!” was Ahab’s proud oath.
Ahab’s prescription for grief resulted in his being swallowed up by it.
Ishmael, on the other hand, was humble enough to accept his place in the scheme of life, birth, death, and humanity. He is found afloat and rescued after all others have perished at Ahab’s mad hand. Ishmael is clinging for life to a wooden coffin made personally for him by a sailor. He embraces his mortality as whole-heartedly as he embraced his birth, realizing that life and death are two sides to the same thing. Free of anguish and no longer avoiding that truth, his heart and mind become one, a thing clear and unafraid of what will come tomorrow. Ishmael floats humbly into a new life, his grief a small sad scar, into an eternity of his own.
Full text at www.civilwarscholars.com (chapter by chapter links at “All Posts All Videos”) researched and written by Jim Surkamp performed by JS, Ardyth Gilbertson and Homer speaker and music performed and curated by Terry Tucker. performed at the BlackBox Arts Center in Shepherdstown, WV
“Squiggles” by Arnold David Clapman and Jim Surkamp
(Arnold David Clapman and Jim Surkamp are holders of the registered copyright to these images and the name and written, including email, permission is required from both to distribute, reproduce or show.