Sometimes even the worst of things can be beneficial. Some months ago, one of my favourite people got a terrible diagnosis, and all of us who loved her had to watch her life wind down. Every family has its tragedies, our family is no exception. This one hit me hard; it broke me open in a way that I haven't broken since I was a kid. Yet even though it was awful, the 'breaking open' part was a good thing.
You know how you feel after a good cry? Empty, neutral - an open space waiting to be filled back up. It's like a fresh start. Everything unessential gets stripped away and all that's left is just, well, me. A reboot.
I spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation in the last 6 months or so. It's the best way I know to meet things like this. In meditation it's about coming back to the moment again and again, being willing to accept what life has given me. In prayer, my focus was less about asking for miracles (although I never would rule them out) and more about asking for help to process the tough feelings. When frustrated by my inability to do any more to ease the situation, I found small things I could do around the house to bring order. I cooked. I couldn't focus on reading much, or working much, or many other of my usual activities; my body seemed to demand that I just sit and let things be. I spent a lot of time out on the front deck watching the birds.
At first I couldn't contain the emotion. I found myself blurting out the news. It was exploding outwards so strongly that I couldn't bear the compassionate hug of someone who cared. That was new. Once the floodgates opened, I discovered feelings I hadn't known were there. Rage. In capital letters. That was a surprise, too. I suspect a lot bubbled up from past angers, using the current emotional upheaval to process some old stuff.
Yet I knew it didn't matter where these feelings came from. Nor did I need to figure out whose feelings I was feeling. Many of the women in our family are empathic and connected emotionally over long distances. When terror rose at a certain hour of a certain day, I had no idea whose terror I was feeling. But that didn't matter either. It just needed to be experienced.
This helped me realize it's ok to feel cranky, but not so ok to feed the crank. It's okay to cry, but not so ok to dwell on sadness. It's ok to be scared, but not so ok to start a blame story to sidestep the discomfort. The shaking always passes, as does the sadness, anxiety, pain. By spending as much time as I could being in the moment, I was reminded that no matter how uncomfortable, none of these feelings last forever.
Yet not all the feelings were bad.
Strange how that works. While difficult feelings did rise, so too did a deeper appreciation of the living energy of the air and trees and birds - the joy and vitality and shimmer of life itself. That cold drink felt more refreshing, the music on the radio that I might otherwise have missed more beautiful. Compassion automatically rose for all those who are struggling. Joy rose when watching the squirrels chase each other, in the complex patterns of a spider web, and in the scent of soup on the stove. Sometimes it felt a bit like a roller coaster - tearful one moment and filled with peace and gratitude the next. Yet all of this gave me a greater sense of our interconnection. The boundaries between me and the world got blurred - in a good way.
Now that the intensity of the grief has passed, I feel like someone else. A little emptier. A little less interested in the things that occupied my attention before this. A little more interested in being in the moment. Things like this remake us. They give us a chance to be reborn, to pick up whatever pieces are left of ourselves and arrange them in a new order. Or choose not to pick them up quite so urgently.
Want to hear something nice?
Months ago, I prayed to my Mom (who died in 1999) to help Mary pass over when her time came. I didn't say anything to anyone or even give it another thought until I got a message from my daughter, "WEIRD. So I'm sitting in the driveway. Just got back from dropping J___ at school. And I saw your mom standing in T___'s yard holding Mary's hand." My daughter isn't interested in metaphysical stuff. This came out of the blue 2 weeks before Mary died. Then a few hours after Mary died, she messaged me again: "Both your parents are with her. BOTH. She had one on each arm. They were walking away. All three. And she was regaining strength as she walked. Holy crow mom. It's like they were walking away from here, helping her and she was frail, and then standing more and more straight, and more and more energetic as they walked away"