I remember a moment in my office when I realized that the journey of grief was about the past and the future. A new life could spring forth. It was the thought that I could plan how my life beyond would look. I got that idea from a book I’d read on grief. The trouble with that type of thinking is that it feels certain, and life is not anywhere near certain. The illusion of control is what would vanish during the next years of my life. While I can plan for some things, where I was led was, in ways, completely unexpected.
I sat looking out the window at the other houses, and I thought I knew where I was headed. I could have drawn up a plan of sorts. Wrong. While we can think about what we want, it is an illusion. Once again, certainty called me out.
There is something about this process that, if we allow it to do so, leads to wonderful and mystical surprises. Around each bend, things that we can’t imagine for ourselves appear, and disappear. Life has a way of doing that to us. Call it what you want: listening to your inner voice, your own knowing; or just letting go, and letting it happen. If we’re able to engage beyond our control, delightful things happen.
In my case I listen, and I have been doing the listening since early childhood. Whatever it is for you, it affects our footsteps as we walk on our path exiting out of the loss we’ve had to face. That day in my office a few years ago has come and gone, and it has proven me wrong. I had no way of making the connection that leads to a transition, because when you’re in it you can’t see it. When you’re in whatever you’re in, you don’t know what you’ve been sucked into.
The real work of grief and loss is found in the liminal spaces, and the times when we can enter back into that “funeral bubble” where life stops for us and we pause to collect the new understandings. We see old relationships in new ways and call them out for what they were. We allow their existence to come to new places within us. It took me somewhere between three and four years to get to this point in the process. Some of it is good, and some of it can be heart crushing. Like a river surging forward, it affects how we understand ourselves, as we leave a sheltered space to travel to a new destination within our personal knowing. Once again, we board a new boat. We’ve been on this boat since the loss happened. We don’t know we’re there because, their nature, death and other losses are traumatic.
During the past few weeks, I’ve begun researching for a book. The research involves reading memoirs involving grief journeys, and I’ve been taken to sadness, visiting old haunts, and a new understanding of where I was, what I could have done better, and ultimately seeing that I’m at yet another place on the river. While my eyes are wide open, I’m scared, and I have questions for myself. Can I navigate this? What is my new soul work? I think this is that space beyond grief where you know you’re someplace else, and once again you find yourself looking back, and this time knowing how you got to this new shore. For me this new place is an intersection that has involved the spiritual, my sexuality, and coming to terms with where I was in my young adult life. It is scary.
I’ve arrived in this liminal place with new skills, and yet, it’s so fresh to me that I wonder if I’m ready for it all. Arriving at a new point in time is more of a recognition than anything else. It is humbling. Once again, I faced a new set of demons down, and moved myself to the new beyond.
In realizing I’m on a new shore, I pause to shed fresh tears. This new set of questions is so different from that August 2016 day when I cried and wondered how I’d do any of this.
I think that in the beginning of the grief process, our knowing and certainty get ripped from us. While we’re busy having ourselves torn apart in the first days, months, and two years, we can’t fully understand the stirrings within. We get grabbed and taken to an underground we didn’t know was present. The underground is a dicey place for several reasons: 1) you don’t know you’re there; 2) you’re still moving along to someplace; and 3) the more inner work you do, the more you discover. The catch to all of this is that we’re underground, and we don’t realize it.
If I could go back and advise the woman of the past—the one that was scared and questioning the “how” of it all—I’d tell her to trust her footsteps. I’d tell her to honor the trauma that the suicide brought into her life, and to understand that this new journey of learning will bring a new calm, along with new acceptance of the essential things. I’d also let her know that grief is like the River Styx.
In a weird way, the living are the ones crossing the River Styx. We cross an underground river to make a grounded connection. Each living journey is unique to itself, and what we begin our crossing with is not what we’ll emerge with. We enter an underground that will propel us to a new, above-ground life. The living work of grief is to cross the River Styx to find ourselves alive in new ways, and on a new shore. At some point in time, we noticed that whatever needed to happen spit us out on this new shore. We’ve lived through our hard work to discover life post whatever tossed us into the boat and sent us shooting onto the waters of darkness. In places the current was strong, and we survived the journey.
There is no way of knowing that the living also traverse the waters of Styx. Maybe this is why grief, and the journey out from it, is so elusive for so many. We fail to understand that where we are is not anything that anyone can warn us about. We are underground, yet seeing light. Our support systems are what provide the lanterns that shine in this underground of Styx. In this place the light dances, dims, and shines brighter until suddenly we’re out!
The work of grief is dark. Grief challenges us to look deep within ourselves, admitting all things and standing as a witness to our own life, and the life of the deceased. We must honor the truth of each life. Like in Speaker For The Dead by Orson Scott Card, we must recognize the truth of our life, and the lives of those gone from us. We find our truth while traveling in the darkness of the River Styx. The work of grief requires this.
I pause with this realization of the journey well-traveled: WOWZA!!!! I dig my feet into the warm sand on the new shore. This is the afterlife! Post Styx. Goodbye, Styx, and thank you for the boat that served me so well.