Sunday, August 29, 2010

Integrating Loss . . .

 . . . NOT letting go of those we love.

One of the advantages to a seminary campus is its library, and we have a fabulous one here.  Wandering around this afternoon as I took a little break from the Book of Amos, I cast my eyes over the shelves of new arrivals.

Here's where they landed: Grief: Contemporary Theory and the Practice of Ministry.  This looks to be a gem of a little book.  I glanced through it and saw that the author breaks down some of our tried-and-not-true and stuck-in-a-rut conventions about grief.  The ones that struck me: you have to let go and you have to do it alone.

I think that Melissa Kelley, in a pastoral and professional volume, is urging upon us much of what I've been trying to argue in a personal and experiential way in my blogs.   Having witnessed my family's well-intended but mostly inept response to stunning experiences of loss (in another month it will be the 50-year anniversary of my mother's and brother's deaths), and having been urged over the past two years to "let go" of my son, I have concluded that the conventional responses to grief are worthless.  They box people into thick-walled prisons of anguish which tend to crack and make way for pain to seep out and poison subsequent circumstances and relationships in the most impossibly defiant kinds of ways.

I think that we have to integrate the losses of our loved ones into our lives, not "let go" of those we love or "get over" those losses.  I haven't articulated that concept well -- although I recall saying to someone, within weeks of Josh's death, that  I have to figure out how to live with the terrible loss of him -- but I've been trying to act upon it.  

Maybe that's why I'm able to be here, writing this exam this week.  I'm doing both things at once, grieving my son and living the life to which God has invited me, and I'm able to do them together because I insist that they are both parts of who I am now.

I'm hazarding a guess that with integration comes transformation.  At least that's what I'm staking my own life on.  And I'm figuring that in a decade or two I can let you know whether I'm right.


  1. In my experiences with grief, it never occurred to me that I should get over my loss. I knew instinctively that it was a walk through, not around, something...after which I would emerge, changed...different from the person who began the journey. Different. Better or worse? Who knows? But armed with wisdom that I would joyfully trade for one more day with the person I grieve...

  2. Oh yeah, there's nothing -- except a couple of people -- I wouldn't trade for that one more day.

  3. this, I think, is why we so often use words like "journey" and even "recovery" in similar ways as, for instance, alcoholics. This isn't a perfect metaphor, obviously, and I'm not in any way suggesting that grief is an illness like alcoholism. I only mean that "recovering alcoholics" are that forever--it's a constant process of becoming and integrating different parts of who they are. I think grief is the same--we're recovering forever, constantly integrating all these different realities into the context in which we find ourselves.
    At least, that's been a helpful metaphor for me...your mileage may vary. :-)

  4. i have long thought that grief is not about repair, back to business as usual, but about incarnation...

  5. "It's not the weight you carry

    but how you carry it --

    books, bricks, grief --

    it's all in the way

    you embrace it, balance it, carry it

    when you cannot, and would not,

    put it down."

    From "Heavy" by Mary Oliver.
    Thank you for giving that to me.

  6. I read but never post until today....I think for me it is about integrating and remembering well not 'letting go' 'getting over' which somehow diminishes the individual. My daughter died 16 years ago at the age of 11 months , the rawness of my grief has softened but the loss of her life is a double edged sword! the journey is one I suspect (and would not want) won't reach an end point but somehow there is a measure of comfort and a finding of a place to be.

  7. A sort of P.S ....
    The poetry of mary Oliver particularly blackwater Woods has resonated deeply ' the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation......'
    The words of Jim Cotter (I'm from the UK) have at times articulated what I have struggled to say and helped 'frame ' some of my meandering thinking

  8. Thanks for commenting, Anon. I am so very sorry about your daughter. I know Mary Oliver well but not Jim Cotter at all, so thank you for that recommendation as well.

  9. Jim Cotter is an Anglican priest who has written some very lovely liturgy , it has been one of my 'scaffolds' . His books are available via Amazon USA ( I checked !)
    Thank you for your comment....

  10. Amen, sister. That's what I believe, too - but I am not necessarily living my grief with others who believe the same thing as you and I - and that is part of the journey, for me, as well. So glad that we have found one another on this path.

  11. Robin ... not to pick nits, but I think you DO articulate that very well. And have over the course of your blogs.

    Articulating well means, to me, being willing to say real words about real feelings and to keep talking (and/or writing) until you stop.

    You have not stopped....and for that I"m grateful.

    You have, however, articulated the edges of pain and love and grief and sorrow and life and endurance and the dawning of another day.

    And for that I'm also very grateful.