A good deal of my time is spent with the bereaved, time during which I have often felt helpless and useless, but also immensely privileged, deeply moved, and mysteriously sustained. Here I offer, tentatively, a personal Lenten meditation on grief and grieving.
Grief is tongue-tied –
its language, universal,
is silence and sighs, groans and gestures –
but if grief could speak –
apart, I mean, from curses and obscenities …
Psalm 22:1, not 22:24, grief,
God deaf to my cry and “Why?” grief.
Holy Saturday, the longest day, grief,
trapped between Friday eve and Sunday dawn.
Grief in three terrible tenses:
The past is like the sea to a shipwreck:
the boat you once rowed now drifts without direction;
beneath the waves of memories lurks a treacherous undertow;
the water deceives your thirst, dehydrating the soul;
the once small islands of sorrow are now the mainland.
The present is like a shroud-black hole,
the spirit’s inescapable singularity,
tearing the heart apart, rending the self asunder,
turning mourning to a moment frozen in time.
And the future – what future?
This pain so cold yet burning,
such hollow, hopeless yearning,
and, like lead, like lead, the crushing weight of it.
Grief that practice makes harder, not easier –
the solitary confinement of the once-shared bed,
the enforced isolation of the table for two.
Grief that scorns the clichés of consolation –
“No, you don’t know how I’m feeling!”
Grief that mocks the tidy therapeutics –
“stages”, “closure”, “moving on”.
Grief is a theatre-in-the-round-and-round-and-round, going
Grief that only poets plumb –
St. Vincent Millay’s “Time does not bring relief; you all have lied”;
Hopkins’ “cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed”;
Jennings’ “Ice in the blood, the wrestle in the night”;
Auden’s “For nothing now can ever come to any good”;
Larkin’s “and the deft / Heart lies impotent”;
Williams’ “last hopes refuted / never such pure despair”;
Milosz’s “How to resist the nothingness?”
This is the landscape of grief:
not only the wood where I am lost,
but the waterless wilderness where,
driven by the Spirit,
I must endure the forty days of famine,
resisting the temptation of crumbs and comfort,
and wait without the expectation of ministering angels
for another, a singable Psalm.