Erich Ferdinand CC
“Falling apart is the appropriate cleansing response to grief”, my grandmother wrote inside of a journal she left behind. Left behind, much as were we, who had so loved and cared for her. In the days following her absence I often felt as if I had forgotten the language here on this new earth, for surely this was a different country, and there was no longer any point A to point B. There was no longer a point, but an ache, a terrible truth that everything and everyone I love I will lose. I have learned, at great cost, that loss can either be invited to the table or banished from the kingdom of the heart. What is sent away keeps knocking at our bodies. A month after my loss I broke out with the shingles virus and an internal staff infection that almost killed me. Was this guilt at having survived someone I loved more than anything in this world? One thing I realized was that I had to make more room for grief in my day to day. It could be five minutes or it could be an hour, but the hole in my life begged to be deepened, not buried.
“The person whom I would have wanted to hold my overwhelming grief was the very same person who was gone”, writes Robert Stolorow. Grief brings us to an entirely strange new world. It is dark undertow, and no longer do we swim bravely as before. We flail, we wreck and we ravage, we almost go under. Everything is the same and nothing is the same and this is the biggest ache; life goes on without the one we most loved. This seems a cruel injustice, how can we possibly go on as we were before? We can’t. The world does, but we don’t. We have been transformed into survivors and for the first time in our short lives we know this in our bones, what it means to survive, to still be here without them.
We all grieve differently but we all grieve. Even in not grieving, in banishment of that intensity called grief we are grieving. If you are running from something you are running from something. Sitting with it is hard, but so is not sitting with it. I did a lot of sitting with my Grandmother for the four, short days she was on hospice, here at home. Sitting, waiting, stroking her hair, cooling her forehead, lifting the body, changing the bedding, moving the bed up then down then up again. Reading her her favorite poems (Robert Frost) “But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” I kept vigil over a woman who had once kept careful vigil over me, who taught me how to love despite great loss, how to open a heart that had been deeply damaged ever wider and wider. The greater the damage, the wider the heart. I wasn’t ready, but she was. She was. When she took her last breath I wept over her body for two hours before the nurse came to officially pronounce her dead. Though I could not articulate it then I think I was angry (my body was angry) that she had not taken me with her, that I was not somehow spared this pain. I could not know then what I am beginning to know now, that this pain, in time, is a blessing, an invitation.
“Grief dares us to love once more”, writes Terry Tempest Williams. Our loss is an invitation to enter the circle, not leave it. Our culture encourages us to grieve alone, in private. After all, the world must go on as before. But we lose something essential, and that is the healing of the village, the gathering of essential strangers, the holding of hands, the singing of songs, the telling of stories. It takes a village to carry our losses to the water’s edge. Why not clear a delicate space for grief, why go it alone? In opening the valley to loss, so many of you showed me that what we all hunger for most is this village of essential connection. Your poems and stories and visions, your words of advice and commiseration have carried me through. I wept reading all of the work here. What a blessing, to share those tears, to be less alone in the alone.
“Grief is the dark color that adds depth to the canvas” writes Francis Weller. “And I don’t think it will end. It will soften over time and turn into a tender melancholy. Your grief is your new relationship with the one you loved. It will be the ongoing reminder of your love and your life together. This sadness keeps them in your world.”
To have been in, as Helene Cixous says “The ultimates, the last lasts – with only the word shipwreck as lantern and explanation.” It is the land for which we will forge new maps, each of us, in time. It is the place that we must now call our new home, this world without them.
“The truth is why words fail.” I think such must also be true of loss, grief, holding the disappearing body of those we love (an unambiguous love) afraid of – but welcoming death, this, too, must be the bare walled room of truth, of why words fail. If I love you I will lose you, but when I lose you I will still love you.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Manhattan psychotherapist Therese Ragen wrote that; "the need of another, the need to feel safe in the closeness and comfort of another, and the healing power of kindness and love are at the center of our psyches now. So much foundational has come undone. Now there is the possibility to bind it, to weave it together differently this time. The primitive terrors each of us faced early on in life are thrust upon us, and the fundamental sense of safety in the world we attained is ruptured. We reach in need for love to heal and grow anew - a second chance."
Grief offers us a second chance. Each poem, story and snapshot, while a remembrance, is equally a venture into the unknown. This issue is sacred ground. It is us, who have lost so much to get here, less alone in arriving. We must provide a bottom for our grief, cupped hands which carry the water to our mouths. Are these not our offerings; poems, stories, visions, remembrances? To all that you have lost, to all that we have lost, let our hearts open ever wider. Do not let time stand you still. Instead, let it move you. Let us remember how and why to swim safely back to shore.
Thank you for keeping me company here in the darkest of the dark. Never underestimate the power of strangers (but I'd rather call you friends) to pull you through with their wisdom and their kindness, their heart-poems. Their having been-there, and so knowing what we feel from the inside out. Is there a better medicine? If so, I've yet to find it.
Through the fields, there is a window, and in that window there is a light on; such have you each been to me, and now, to the world.
In loving memory of Eleanor Sharkey
January 3rd, 1930 - July 14th, 2019
And to all of our contributor's loved ones, herein remembered.
Special thanks to my co-editor, Erica Anderson-Senter, for her help with this issue.
A special curated playlist/soundtrack companion to the issue below, songs that tackle grief and loss and life and love.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.