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Comfort in a Time of Great Grief (#31)

Jan 07, 2021

My sister Judy had many mantras. One of them was, "be willing to bear discomfort."1 Those of us who are committed to racial and social justice are no strangers to the discomfort of loss and disappointment. Yet bear it we must, if we are to fulfill our commitment to co-creating a world that works for everyone.

While being willing to bear discomfort has not been one of the Leading Consciously skills, it surely is a skill worth embracing. Discomfort is part of the flow of life.

I was thinking about Judy and how much I missed her when I read this post below by Jim Lockard. She passed away in 2007 from complications of sickle cell disease. The post comforted me as I hope it will you.

2021 promises to be a good year, although I'm sure it will also bring its share of heart-rending losses. I wish all of us the strength to bear the discomfort of grief, the resilience to carry out our commitments to make a difference, and the courage to embrace the joys and opportunities of life as they come.

– Jean


LESSONS FROM THE DEATH OF MY CHILD2

Reverend Dr. Jim Lockard

Don’t surrender your grief so quickly,

let it pierce the soul

Let it wail and crack open wide the disbelief

allowing its searing tears to stain your face

Something is missing in my heart tonight,

it has made my gentle eyes soft with sorrow

while my angry voice turns into a whispered prayer

and my tender need of absolution so clear.

– Joseph Francis Argazzi

Two of my colleagues in ministry have experienced the death of young adult children in the past couple of weeks. One is eerily like my own experience of the loss of my precious daughter, Caitlyn, on Easter Sunday 2008 to a tragic car accident. Like Caitlyn, my friend’s daughter was under 20 with what was surely to be an amazing life ahead of her. Needless to say, these events have brought up feelings and memories for me as I grieve their losses and, once again, my own. I am reminded that grief does not end. It lies beneath the surface at times, but it can be awakened at any moment. So, I am moved to write this, my most personal blog entry to date.

I have only partial, episodic memories of the three weeks in 2008, beginning just before midnight on the eve of Easter Sunday, California time, when my daughter, Heather, called me from her mom’s home in Ft. Lauderdale. It was already after midnight in Florida where Caitlyn had just died. I remember those first few hours, crying off and on as I called people – my wife, Dorianne, who was writing in our cabin in Montana and unreachable at that hour; my ministerial partner at the time, Dr. Sue Rubin, to tell her the news, pray, and arrange for her to do the Sunday service alone; Delta Airlines, where the person who took my call put me on hold while she cried and spoke to her supervisor so that we could transfer the airline tickets we had purchased to attend Caitlyn’s high school graduation in six weeks – without any fees; and my friend Steven Brabant, for a ride to LAX very early on Sunday morning. If I called anyone else, I don’t remember.

Of the three weeks in Fort Lauderdale which followed, I remember staying with my dear friend Dr. Charles Geddes (well, arriving at his place, that’s about all I recall), making arrangements with the Neptune Society, bits of two very large memorial services, some connection with friends and family, and a few other things, but not very much. I realize now that what I was doing was grieving and that was, for me, a period of sadness and numbness. Along the way there was anger, despair, more anger, resignation, more sadness – much more. And the gradual realization that this had really happened and my beautiful daughter was gone; and that my life would never be the same. Memories had to be restructured and given new meaning, future plans and idealizations erased.

Joan Didion put it well:

Grief turns out to be a place none of us

know until we reach it. We anticipate (we

know) that someone close to us could die,

but we do not look beyond the few days or

weeks that immediately follow such an

imagined death. We misconstrue the nature

of even those few days or weeks. We might

expect if the death is sudden to feel shock.

 

We do not expect the shock to be

obliterative, dislocating to both body and

mind. We might expect that we will be

prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We

do not expect to be literally crazy, cool

customers who believe that their husband is

about to return and need his shoes.

 

“In the version of grief we imagine, the

model will be “healing.” A certain forward

movement will prevail. The worst days will

be the earliest days. We imagine that the

moment to most severely test us will be the

funeral, after which this hypothetical healing

will take place. When we anticipate the

funeral we wonder about failing to “get

through it,” rise to the occasion, exhibit the

“strength” that invariably gets mentioned as

the correct response to death. We anticipate

needing to steel ourselves the for the

moment: will I be able to greet people, will I

be able to leave the scene, will I be able even

to get dressed that day?

 

“We have no way of knowing that this will

not be the issue. We have no way of knowing

that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind

of narcotic regression in which we are

wrapped in the care of others and the gravity

and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we

know ahead of the fact (and here lies the

heart of the difference between grief as we

imagine it and grief as it is) the unending

absence that follows, the void, the very

opposite of meaning, the relentless

succession of moments during which we will

confront the experience of meaninglessness

itself.

 

– Joan Didion on Grief from “A Year of Magical Thinking”

A big lesson I learned through my spiritual philosophy, The Science of Mind, which I had been studying for nearly 20 years at that point, was that if I trusted Spirit and my connection, my grief would have a bottom. I could allow myself to grieve deeply without fear that I would lose myself. This was very comforting in helping me through the process (which never ends, by the way). I also had spiritual support from colleagues, friends, family, and others.

Spiritual maturity is the ability to face whatever comes along in life from a place of realization that it’s all divine – meaning that much of what happens is a mystery. The why questions about people dying are ultimately unanswerable. There are aspects of reality at play for which we have no understanding.

So, if I were to offer advice to anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one (or any other kind of loss), it would be this: 

  • Let yourself grieve – your process will be unique in some ways and frustratingly conformist in others. Be with it regardless. Remember, it has a bottom; but it never ends.
  • The memorial service is not the hardest part. As difficult as that can be, the weeks that followed were a wasteland of numbness for me. Life had no flavor, no prospect of joy, as Joan Didion noted above. And after a few weeks, ready or not, people start expecting you to be “normal” again.
  • There is no appropriate time for grieving to be over; but it should become manageable over time. If it doesn’t, get some help.
  • Try to have compassion for those who try to comfort you but do not know how. Next to losing my daughter, the most difficult part of the process was dealing with well-meaning but unskillful efforts to comfort me. Most of the time, the best thing to say to someone grieving is something like, “I don’t know what to say,” because, more often than not, that is the truth. And, of course, people are approaching a grieving person from their own fears – of death, of inadequacy, of sorrow, of loss. Compassion is the only answer.
  • There is more to life than meets the eye. I have had experiences which point me to the realization that this experience of life isn’t all there is. I don’t pretend to have any details about what is beyond this experience and tend not to trust those who tell me they do. But there is more.
  • Finally, show your love to those for whom you care – not out of sense of fear of loss, but rather out of a determination to live in greater joy now.

We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get ‘solved.’ They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief and for relief, room for misery and for joy.

– Pema Chödrön

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

Reprinted with permission, Jan. 2021 


Rev. Dr. Jim Lockard has been an ordained minister for over 20 years. He served in pulpits in Maryland, Florida, and California, and was a member of the Board of Directors of Religious Science International (Now Centers for Spiritual Living) for 9 years. He travels the world with his wife, Dorianne Cotter-Lockard, speaking, teaching, and coaching spiritual leaders. He has a BS Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a MPA Degree from the University of Miami. He is the author of three books, among them Sacred Thinking: Awakening to Your Inner Power and Creating the Beloved Community: A Handbook for Spiritual Leadership. He blogs at NewThoughtEvolutionary.wordpress.com.

Dr. Lockard produced a follow-up post to this one3


 

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Have you experienced a profound grief, and how did you find your way past?
  2. How has grieving changed you?

Leading Consciously concepts and skills covered in this blog post:

  • Avoid emotional suppression
  • Build positive emotions
  • Set a direction, not fixed outcomes

#grief    #JimLockard   #BetheChange


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The views and opinions expressed in this or other blog posts at www.leadingconsciously.com are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Leading Consciously. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.


 

[1]  Original phrase: “Bear the discomfort in order to gain comfort.” Recovery Inc.

[2] New Thought Evolutionary, December 1, 2020.

[3] New Thought Evolutionary, December 10, 2020.

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