Sunday 3 November 2013

All Souls Day: Grief, Pain, Hurt and Healing

"The darkness that touches me takes many forms. This past weekend away from home, when I dream more vividly than other times, I had persistent of dreams of the past with people and places which illuminated my brokenness and wounds. It was unsettling and uncomfortable and left me both baffled and ill at ease. I realized as I tried to listen to the dreams that in part, at least, I had expected that by this time in my life, all the darkness in me would be enlightened or resolved.  Instead some of the same hurts and slights that have been part of me since my youth remain in my unconscious, calling me to pay attention to places where I still need the Light of Christ to shine its healing Light." (Elizabeth Nordquist)
"It is hard to have patience with people who say, 'There is no death' or 'Death doesn't matter.' There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn't matter." (C.S. Lewis)
In the earlier, and to my mind, superior version of the story of C.S. Lewis, Shadowlands, with Joss Ackland and Clare Bloom, we are given two reactions to grief by Joy Davidman's two sons.
Douglas bottles up his grief, and then it suddenly comes out with talking to Lewis, in the attic, and they both break down weeping. But for David, the outpouring of feeling comes as anger, and he strikes heavy blows with an axe to cut a wooden tree trunk in half. He displaces his grief into anger.
This is the second stage of grief described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Shock and Denial that something like this could even happen. And secondly, anger that it has happened. That comes over strongly in this narrative:
"My counsellor tells me that the experience of grieving changes one, that I'm not the same person I was when Russell was alive, and it's likely I'll never experience things the same way again.  I was proud of myself for scheduling "people time" into that weekend; I'm sobered by the realization that even now, when my "physical energy" has rebounded I must still be careful of my "emotional energy" quotient and plan accordingly.  And I'm angry.  Angry, I tell you!  Because not only has Russell been taken away from me but so too has my expectation of what I can count on to help me feel better in this life here without him."
In his notebook of reflections after the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis on one occasion rails against God as a cosmic vivisectionist - "Is God a loving Father or is God the great vivisectionist?" The hurt is raw, and he needs to hit out at someone, anyone, to make sense of it all. And in his case, the anger is displaced to God.
"I wrote that last night. It was a yell rather than a thought. Let me try it over again. Is it rational to believe in a bad God? Anyway, in a God so bad as all that? The Cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile?"
How we cope with grief at the loss of a loved one is complex, and often displacement activities come into play. There is nothing wrong with that. We need to express feelings in a variety of ways. But David gets passed his anger and gets on with his life; he has to, otherwise it will remain as a festering scab, always ready to be picked.
That doesn't lessen the hurt, or make the journey any easier.
"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.  I keep on swallowing."
"At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed.  There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.  I find it hard to take in what anyone says."
The service at All Souls day at St Brelade's Church doesn't take away that hurt, but it does provide a way to remember. Names are called out, and people go forward to light a candle for their loved ones while the chant goes on:
"Kindle a flame to lighten the dark, and take all fear away"
I add the names of those special to me to the list, but also some that I know who have also died, and who leave grieving families. They need to be remembered too. That's part of the ritual of healing.
And this is a service of healing. The wounds may leave scars, but they must be healed; we must not keep them raw, like an open wound.
That's the burden of grief, and it can weigh us down. As Seth Carrier notes:
"Rocks of pain and hurt are not easy to remove. But as we begin to heal, the rocks will come out. We may never empty our backpacks completely, but every time we choose the path of forgiveness and healing, and take one more of those grievance story rocks out of our backpack, there is greater peace in our hearts."
What happens when we do not, is that the past consumes the present, and we cannot let go.
"There are times," Sister Joan Chittister observes, "to let a thing go.  There is a time to put a thing down, however unresolved, however baffling, however wrong, however unjust it may be.  There are some things in life that cannot be changed, however intent we are to change them.  There is a time to let surrender take over so that the past does not consume the present, so that new life can come, so that joy has a chance to surprise us again."
The choice is ours.

No comments: