After my brother-in-law´s death and funeral I still find that there are days when the view out our windows looks flat, when the lush life that lines our roads looks harsh in the glare of the sun. That I am actually accomplishing anything worth accomplishing seems impossible. I am surprised that I am so affected by John’s death, that it flows through my veins, that I want him to come back so badly. I cannot imagine how much my husband still feels as he lives each day.
After Jim came home from Alaska and before we went to Oregon for John’s funeral a couple of weeks ago, I had a doctor’s appointment, just a medication review. But unlike for you folks in the US, our doctor will spend an hour with us, even more, if there’s something that needs talking about. And of course John was on my mind, as was Jim. And all of us were on the doctor’s mind. So the doctor and I talked about Jim and John and me. Of course I told him I was worried about Jim who seemed distant and somewhat short-tempered. The doctor gently reminded me that mourning happens in different ways for different people and takes different lengths of time. Sometimes people don’t even think about the death itself, instead they get angry at lots of silly little things. Sometimes they get angry at people they love. Sometimes they worry about them incessantly. Sometimes they just clam up and withdraw. Sometimes they get completely depressed as in clinical depression. Sometimes they rail against God if they believe in him. Maybe they drink more than they usually do, or eat too little. Or fall behind in work or projects. We talked about how profoundly affecting the death of a close brother would be. I told the doctor how I wanted to “fix” Jim, but how Jim didn’t want me to “fix” him: didn’t want suggestions or hovering. And the doctor told me, just be there. And just be there for yourself, too. So, I asked, out of curiosity, really, since not much time had passed since John’s death, when is it too much time that a person is spending being lost in mourning of one kind or another? He shrugged. Not really something you can define. After a while, though, if you don’t start to feel better some of the time, and then a little more of it, maybe after three weeks or six months, or a year or whatever, then maybe it is time to think about doing something more. Of offering or getting help. What kind? It depends: a priest, a therapist, a death counselor. But, he said, I should remember that grief is part of life and sometimes the best therapy is just being together quietly with the person you love: not withdrawing.
I think that loved ones, dead loved ones, should remain woven into the hearts of the living, for it is not clear there is anything more than that, and that is all we can really offer them and keep for ourselves. So mourning should soften, but maybe not be fully recovered from.
Today I found this that my favorite famous online rabbi David Wolpe said:
Advice for those who are close to individuals dying or grieving a loss.
I have three words for them.
Presence, in other words be there around the other people who are suffering.
Silence, don't feel that you have to say something because some of the most foolish things that I've ever heard have come from people who are attempting to comfort those who are in trouble because they feel they have to say something.
And availability. That is, be ready to talk and to listen without forcing it.
And those three things together create a community of grief and every grief seeks community.
More than that I'm not sure any of us can offer each other but that's an awful lot.
Yesterday, in honor of the dead from 9/11, Rabbi Wolpe quoted this wonderful poem of Edna St. Vincent Millay:
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay