"My custom has always been to ponder grief; that is, to follow it through ventricle and aorta to find out its lurking places. That old weight in the chest, telling me there is something I must dwell on, because I know more than I know and must learn it from myself..."
~from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Ah grief, that foe. Grief, that makes our bodies rock with deep, deep sadness. Grief, that we'll do almost anything to avoid because it's so consuming, so exhausting, so bottomless.
As John Ames, however, the character in Robinson's novel Gilead points out, grief has secrets and if we sit with it, allow it to illuminate those dark corners of our heart where we "know more than I know and must learn from it myself," then grief can be our teacher.
It runs counter to our instincts, this sitting with grief. Especially in these times of quick fixes, of escape hatches. Why sit with grief when we can lose ourselves in television? Why sit with grief when there's a tub of ice cream or a box of donuts? Why sit with grief when there's Facebook, Twitter, cat videos? When there's an OW to stalk online?
Why? Because grief isn't going anywhere. Grief waits beneath the anger and anxiety. It makes itself known when your friend announces she's pregnant and you burst into tears. It makes itself known when you can barely get out of bed even though you know you need to get outside. It makes itself known when the mere act of making dinner feels like too much. It makes itself known when you move the wedding album to a bottom drawer because you can't bear to be reminded.
But grief is cagey. It can't be experienced on the fly. It requires that we truly sit still with it. That we don't try and "solve" it. We can't think our way out of grief. We need to feel our way through it, like a blind man in an unfamiliar place.
The beauty of grief is that when we allow ourselves to feel such deep pain and loss we open ourselves up to being able, eventually, to feel the highs too.
It's not easy, opening up to grief. It feels huge. We fear being swallowed alive.
But like our character in Gilead, that weight is our cue that it needs our attention. I spent far too long living life with the feeling of an elephant on my chest. Sure I was functional. But I sure as hell wasn't having fun. Perhaps "fun" is too much to expect of anyone going through the pain of infidelity. Perhaps we should lower our expectations to feeling a bit...lighter. Being able to smile sincerely. To hold, for even a moment, the beauty in a child's smile, or the trust in a friend's hug, or the joy in a pet's wagging tail, alongside our pain. To make room for something other than hurt and fear (disguised as anger).
I've been asked how to open up to the pain with the expectation that it also opens us up to life's joy again. The only real answer I have is to sit with it. When it comes – and it will, so be patient – let it wash over you. We're so terrified of our grief that we push it away. We busy ourselves. We shift focus.
But that only pushes grief into the shadows of our heart; it only leaves our hearts restricted.
Sit with your grief and discover that you know more than you know, including where to take your next step. Grief, especially, is wisdom that guides the way toward healing.