I never doubted that our great love was worth the grief I was experiencing, but my heart felt broken and my life derailed.
It was relatively easy to feel gratitude for our loving marriage when my husband Vic was alive. Whether we were in a chemotherapy treatment room or in the stem cell transplant unit or struggling with Vic’s illness at home, we had each other. To quote Paul Bennett’s book,Loving Grief (Larson Publications, Burdett, NY, 2009), we had “our intense focus on our present love for each other, a focus that grew out of not knowing what the future might bring.” (p. 31) No matter how Vic suffered and how exhausted I became caring for him, our love made the experience bearable and meaningful.
After Vic’s death, I reminded myself each day to be grateful for the fruitful and satisfying relationship I had enjoyed for 42 years. Painful separation is inevitable, the price we humans pay for attachment. I never doubted that our great love was worth the grief I was experiencing, but my heart felt broken and my life derailed. I read many bereavement books searching for clues about how to withstand the loss. I didn’t want to run from my experience, but hoped to learn from it and be transformed. None of the books I read satisfied my need to look at Vic’s death as an initiation into deeper truths about the nature of earthly existence until I found Paul Bennett’s book, Loving Grief with its eloquent portrait of sacred sorrow.
Bennett helped me see the essence of my situation when he wrote after his wife’s death: “Grief is how loving her feels. My grief is, in fact, nothing more or less than my love for her.” (p. 34)
Bennett quotes Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step: “He advises us to embrace the feeling, ‘like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby’.” (p. 35) “In the end,” Bennett writes, “there was no sharp line between loving her in life and grieving for her in death. I loved her and grieved for her as I held her; I loved her and grieved for her when she was gone.” (p. 36)
Because Bennett helped me find meaning in the first year after my husband’s death, I look to him for guidance about how grieving might evolve. “Because I knew my grief as my love, I expected my grief to feel different as time went on, just as my love for Bonnie had changed from year to year. And so it did. My love for her was sometimes so deeply sad that it sucked all the energy out of me. Other times it was easier to bear. In time, I came to find the sweetness of my memories of Bonnie.” (p. 36)
Throughout Loving Grief, Paul Bennett shares tender and useful insights from his experience. He discusses how friends can help a grieving person and how the griever can help her/himself. His heartfelt images of the gifts that come from grief help me befriend my sorrow. His insights about the healing power of simple self-created ritual give me words to explain the comfort I feel when I walk to the place where my husband’s ashes are buried or visualize releasing him to other realms in daily meditation. “Maybe the gift of rituals is the gift of simple presence: A ritual makes you completely and honestly here, right now. That can bring deep relief from all the stirring around and talking and wrestling that we do with our emotions. If you give yourself the right ritual—something simple like standing on a bridge with water running under you, or sitting in front of a candle with a picture of that beloved person whom you are never going to see again—it is so simple. There is absolutely nothing for you to do but to be there. And that is a tremendous gift.” (p. 53-54)
“I can choose to accept or resist my grief, but I cannot end it, and I would not want to, because grieving is the other face of love; it is the inevitable consequence of change…of life.” (p. 74) And so it is.