A devastating loss is heading my way. It isn’t my first loss and it’s not likely to be the last. I feel vulnerable and alone, but the reality is that I have lots of company. One of my closest friends is coping with her mother’s terminal illness, another with his wife’s death. Nor is death the only form of loss, as anyone who’s endured the end of an affair knows. Yet knowing how common grief is doesn’t comfort me. It only adds to feeling we’re all helpless in a dark world.
Francis Weller wouldn’t agree with me. He’s a psychotherapist and author specializing in what he calls the “wild edge of sorrow.” In the serendipity of the right words at the right time, someone sent me one of Weller’s most challenging quotes: “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other, and be stretched large by them.”
I sit here looking at my two hands, pondering his words. Holding on to grief is my habit already and my fingers close around it. The fingers on my other hand are still open. I can’t grasp this impossible thing called gratitude. How can I be grateful for a future without the one I love? But let me try.
I am grateful for the moments my love and I shared – in museums, for he was an avid artist; on beaches, where we reveled in the ocean together; at the opera world he introduced me to. I have always found it too hard to look at what has been lost. But perhaps these scenes and so many more can still be mine if I let memory hold them. As poet Mary Oliver found, memories can be either a “basement without light” or a “golden bowl.” So let me have the strength to turn on the light when the difficult holidays come, and instead of sorrowing let me hear the echo of our laughter as we created our own greeting cards together.
Gratitude can spread to wider horizons. I’m thankful for the friends who take time to be supportive, despite their own wounds. For the fulfillment I still get from my work – and though I sink with each rejection, appreciation of the will to keep trying.
The man I’m about to lose is my partner. The cruel truth is that I have been losing him already, for dementia erases him more and more each day. Like so many others in this painful situation, I put on a smiling face, a cheery voice, when I’m with him. I’m grateful I have the strength to help him this way and to have whatever can be rescued from our fading days together.
Despite the inevitable cost, aren’t all of us who have the courage to love fortunate? My fingers curve around the gratitude hand.
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.