“Yes,” I said in May 2014 when I received a red-lettered invitation from TEDx Chemung River I had applied the month before. “Sure, I’ll figure out how to give a TEDx talk. November 8 is five months away. Plenty of time. I’ll get help. I can do this.”
The next morning, I wasn’t so sure. What could I say about grief in under eighteen minutes with no notes or prompts? What could I say that mattered? I wrote, rewrote, deleted, erased, tossed, started over, and wrote again. I talked with friends and dug deeply into the experience of my husband Vic’s death.
“No more changes in this message,” I pleaded with the perfectionist writer within, but changes kept coming. I caught the intuitions, articulated them, and integrated them into the presentation.
“Sure, I can give a talk on stage at the Corning Museum of Glass auditorium. It’s still months away, so I’ll figure it out.” And I did, but I had to keep my cool in a highly amplified and microphoned world with my hearing aids sending me sound distortion and high pitched feedback. All this in the context of emotional ideas and images that made me feel naked and vulnerable. To make my message powerful for the audience, it had to be powerful for me.
As the talk developed, I distilled three lessons from grief.
I am not in charge.
Of course, none of us is, but we’re constantly told our experience is created by our attitude and perspective. Be positive. Make life what you want it to be. It’s up to you. It’s true from a limited perspective, but not when it comes to life and death.
I can control some of my reactions and surrender gracefully to what is even if I prayed for a different outcome, but there isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to natural disasters, catastrophic accidents, or DNA errors. In many of life’s twists and turns, I would create a different plan if I were the planner. No, I’m not in charge.
Love and grief are a package deal.
I’ve always known this, haven’t you? I learned this listening to opera: Tristan and Isolde, La Boheme, La Traviata. My first meditation teacher Anthony Damiani loved opera and played the same arias over and over again. Listening to the love songs and death scenes, I understood the yearning that comes with first love, the agony of waiting for a response, the ecstasy of union, and the longing and despair of separation.
How could I forget, even for a moment, that love ends in loss for the ones left behind?
Ritual helps more than I ever could have imagined.
I first learned about the power of ritual in the 1960s. We lit incense and lowered the lights. We were fascinated with the yin-yang symbol, mandalas, and chanting. I was influenced by the cultural influx of Buddhism, yoga, Hinduism, and meditation. When Vic and I traveled, we experienced ancient Buddhist and Hindu rituals. It was an awakening for a Midwestern girl whose family didn’t discuss spiritual issues. I soon learned how ritual could change my attitude or soothe my agitated mind.
These three lessons came in the context of this particular talk, but there are many possibilities. I hope you’ll watch “Good Grief: What I Learned from Loss” and consider the lessons you’ve learned from small and large losses. Let me know what you discover. You might find surprises as I did.
For other posts about love and grief coming together and the power of ritual, see Bookends of a Marriage or A Personal Grief Ritual of Remembrance and Release. Wishing all in the northern hemisphere a joyful celebration of the Return of the Light.