It was easy to feel gratitude for our close marriage when my husband Vic was alive. Whether we were in a chemotherapy treatment room, in the stem cell transplant unit, or struggling with illness at home, we could count on each other. He was sick and I was his caregiver, but he supported me with hugs, concern for my emotional pain, and consistent gratitude. No matter how Vic struggled or how exhausted I became, we stood together. Then, cancer won and he died. I had to go it alone.
Even though I knew that our great love was worth the grief that flooded my life, my heart was broken and my life derailed. Fortunately, I found a book that helped me understand grief as a normal expression of deep love.
Thich Nhat Hanh advises us to embrace our difficult feelings “like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby.” My thoughts of Vic were thick with longing for what I could not have, but my grief echoed a sadness I felt before Vic’s death. In Bennett’s words, “There was no sharp line between loving her in life and grieving for her in death. I loved her and grieved for her as I held her; I loved her and grieved for her when she was gone.”
I knew I was being taught essential life lessons and wanted to stay with my sorrow and allow it to transform me. Childhood losses, great literature, and opera had already taught me that love has a tragic ending with someone left behind to grieve.
I also sought comfort, and Bennett’s discussion of self-created ritual gave me words to describe the solace I felt when I took flowers to the place where Vic’s ashes were buried or the peace that descended when I visualized Vic being released to other realms in daily meditation.
“…the gift of rituals is the gift of simple presence: A ritual makes you completely and honestly here, right now…. If you give yourself the right ritual—something simple like standing on a bridge with water running under you, or sitting in front of a candle with a picture of that beloved person whom you are never going to see again—it is so simple. There is absolutely nothing for you to do but to be there. And that is a tremendous gift.”
“I can choose to accept or resist my grief,” Bennett writes, “but I cannot end it, and I would not want to, because grieving is the other face of love; it is the inevitable consequence of change,… of life.”
And so it is.
How have you navigated grief? Have you created rituals for yourself? For other blogs about learning from grief, see Creating a Grief Ritual, Small Goodbyes, or Flowers for the Living, Flowers for the Dead. An earlier version of this piece was published by gratefulness.org in 2009.