You Can Do This: A Post by Jim

Bleeding Heart photo by Jim MillerI just finished an enjoyable reading of The Language of Flowers, a novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. No one dies in the story. And yet grief seeps through many pages of the book. There are, as you know, many sources of grief.

The reason I refer to this story relates not to any expression of grief but to an incident that took place when the central character, a young woman named Victoria, is in labor during the birth of her first child. She has chosen to have a midwife deliver the baby. The labor pains are very hard for Victoria to bear and at one point she says to Mother Ruby, the midwife, “Please. Please. Whatever you have to do. Just get it out.” And Mother Ruby replies, “You’re doing it. You’re the only one that can get this baby out.”

In an interview in the back of the book, the author relates that’s exactly what once happened to her—during the birth of her first child, a midwife said, “You’re the only one who can do this.”

I thought about grieving people that I have known through the years, especially those who wanted me to get them through their grief as quickly as possible, those who wanted me to do something, anything, so they wouldn’t hurt as much as they did. I remember finding various ways to tell them, kindly, respectfully, “You’re the only one who can do this.”

Yes, others can support you as you grieve. They can be there for you in many ways. But they cannot do your grieving for you. Others can share with you what helped them during their own times of loss. But they cannot transplant their past experience into your present life. Professionals can tell you about research findings and offer their gathered knowledge. But they cannot apply their insights to your day-to-day life. Only you can.

Ultimately, only you can do your grief work for you. Still, with supportive care and reflective wisdom and a measure of love from others, you will be able to do this work. Why? Because you’re the only one who can. Because that’s the magic of how grief works. And because once you have done your work, you’ll know it was worth it.

Finding a Safety Zone: A Post by Jim

Photo by Jim MillerAndrea S. Gould has written a book about her experiences after the sudden death of her husband. She also writes, as a practicing psychotherapist, in an instructive way to share her learnings with those who might follow her on this journey through grief.

Andrea entitled her book The Virgin Widow, which she defines as an innocent, first-time bereaved woman. She writes of such people—and the word “virgin” in this context could also be applied to widowed men, grieving parents, and bereaved children—that they find themselves “being forced into a new, unwelcome, and radically shifted world-picture that eerily—frustratingly—contains many of the same objects, people, and places, although we see these in a different light.”

Perhaps Andrea’s experience is your own. The picture of your world is in many ways the same as it used to be, physically, and yet that picture is so entirely different from the way it used to look to you. What used to give you comfort is not to be found. What used to give you pleasure no longer does. What you used to take for granted will never be that way again.

In her book Andrea describes what helped her most:

For me, “staying in the present” was of primary importance, both as a safety zone between the poignancy of a lost past and the frightening uncertainty of an abstract future….Moving in slow motion, I anchored my awareness in the spectrum of sensation and sanctuary that each moment offered.

Perhaps her experience mirrors your own—that you have a lost past and an uncertain, abstract future. If so, take to heart what she learned: choosing to stay consciously in the present moment may help as much as anything in making your way through the labyrinth of grief. In the moment you can be in touch with, and feel yourself a part of, the created world. In the moment, you can deal with whatever that single moment presents to you, a bit at a time. In the moment, you can learn to live in that precious safety zone you’re coming to know right now until you’re able, one day, to return to that larger life you once experienced, and can experience yet again.