|from my art journal, 2016|
Acceptance is so inadequate a word. An online dictionary defines acceptance as:
willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation.
An unpleasant situation does not describe the death of a husband, nor is it merely difficult, or even a situation. And certainly, there was no willingness at least on my part to tolerate his death, as if being tolerant was somehow related to being bereft. Yet, in so many descriptions about grief, learning to accept the death is supposedly a kind of stage suggesting healing.
I want to suggest here that it isn't acceptance that marks a turn in the road of grief, but rather the shift in stories that are told about our loved one(s) who have died. Healing is better expressed when we can see them through the length of their lives, not just the tragic ending.
Words feel inadequate, even when they offer us a start. Earlier, I was reading Jane Hirschfield's opening poem, "After Long Silence," from After. She ends the poem with this line:
"Yet words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins."
Her words started me thinking and I realized that it wasn't explanations that have most helped after my husband's death. Knowing the five stages of grief still feels awkward and wrong. So no, explanations did not help often. Rather, it was stories that others told that lifted me.
Stories of others who have walked where I was walking helped to illuminate a path that was more often than not, dark. Grief grows shadows and stories lift those shadows, revealing what rests beneath. Stories give us the courage to look beneath the sadness. Stories reveal parts of ourselves we simply did not know before.
Those who tell stories of their own grief and recovery help to translate the animate life that was lost into something new and lasting. This is perhaps the gift that grief brings. This is what Shakespeare was on about in Sonnet 18: "So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."
What now feels like a million years ago I read Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony and never forgot her opening:
“I will tell you something about stories
They aren't just entertainment.
Don't be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off
illness and death.
You don't have anything if you don't have the stories..."
I had barely turned 20 when I read this book and frankly I was baffled. I was too young, too inexperienced to understand how stories and death might connect and it remained a mystery for decades until my sweet husband's death allowed me to link stories, illness and death. I see now that this story I have been telling, writing here and sharing with you for nearly the last two years has been nothing less or more than how I answer the deep need to tell you about Rob--to keep him alive in words.
Stories transform lives-- especially for those of us who have lost so greatly. It is a sacred job to tell stories. In some ways this is what it means to be a survivor--to be the one who lives.