May 25 / Paul

Grief Soup, Part One

If only grief were simple: sadness, tears, missing that beloved person. If only we could be alone in stillness with the absence (and the startling presence) of that dear person we’ve lost. Maybe then we could simply rest in the plain sorrow of love and let our grief be.

What you get, though, is it not just grief but grief soup – a rich and varied blend of emotions that is as unique as you are.

Grief soup is a mixture of love and sadness, fear and anger, regret and resentment, with a healthy dose of loneliness, most likely, and traces (depending on your own recipe) of hope or despair, relief, shock, shame, courage or self-consciousness. All those ingredients blend together into your particular version of grief soup, which most people simply call “grief.”

With so many emotions, judgments and expectations present, it’s tricky to speak about your grief, much less deal with it in a helpful way.

When I lost Bonnie, I was blessed to experience a grief that was largely unmixed with fear, regret, resentment and anger. Bonnie and I had had two and half months to be together, knowing that she would soon die. Her slipping away was gradual, and at the end she chose to stop taking medicine, rather than extend the misery she was feeling.

Loneliness, though, was a huge and obvious part of my grief after she died. My friends saw I was lonely, and offered their time and their homes to ease me through that empty time. It’s important to notice that such invitations are offered as remedies for loneliness, not for grief. Sometimes people are given well-meant advice like “You should get out more,” or “Why don’t you start dating again.” (I stoutly resented that one, right up to the day I suddenly fell in love with Carol.) If you see these as recommended cures for grief, you may be shocked at your friends’ insensitivity. But this is advice to deal with loneliness, not with grief. And for loneliness, it may be good medicine.

Let’s not be so simplistic with ourselves or with our grieving friends. Let’s not say, “I’m grieving,” or “He’s grieving,” and let it go at that; let’s listen for all the ingredients that are present in our grief soup or someone else’s.

If we pay close attention, we may find that we have ways to deal with the anger, ways to deal with the fear, ways to deal with regret or resentment or loneliness. And when we have noticed that we can deal with all of those, maybe we’ll find that we don’t need to deal with grief itself, that we can simply allow our grief to be, because it is, in its essence, no more or less than love.

Next, Part Two:  A practice for grief — naming the ingredients in your grief soup.

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