On grief (again!)
Sometimes (very occasionally) you go a whole day before it hits you again. Some days, it's every other minute, near enough every thought. Grief comes in lots of forms (and, supposedly, seven stages), and doesn't just apply to the death of another person. It's no surprise, given the extraordinary power of grief to knock you sideways, to put you out of your stride (and a thousand other tired metaphors and similes) that there is a kind of spiritual world in which grief is allayed by the promise of another meeting in the future.
"You will meet them again. But not yet." That's the idea. That the person lost and gone is not quite so lost, just metaphysically distant, such that the living cannot touch them or see them, but that they will be there somehow at the point that we die. I prefer Maximus' own 'What we do in life echoes in eternity', as some particularly meticulous readers of These Matters will already be aware. That way, there is no promise of a future driving the now, no 'just out of reach' spiritual realm that, through the right medium (in all possible senses) be contacted. That way the grief is allowed to be complete, to reach the end of those seven stages where there is a new normal.
It is common - and, I think, a certain type of easy - to feel that spirituality when death or some other source of crippling grief comes. I used to refer to my mother as a 'births, marriages and deaths Christian', which I think carries some of the message. It's not about belief in God and the message that Christ brings about peace and love, although I suppose it lines up with the 'hope' bit. It's about the sense that someone lost will be there, complete and intact, years after their own death, when I die myself. And that hope is cruel in both ways, because it promises life after death both for you and for me, despite the lack of anything convincing from inside this life to suggest that's how it will happen.
I'm definitely stuck on the 'bargaining' and 'depression' stages of grief, and that applies to a bunch of different examples. I think, that the self-same urge that makes some people religious and create a personal relationship with God is the one that drives the bargaining stage. My connection with the spiritual (God, Jesus, Providence, the afterlife) is all negative, I think. I don't go into churches and feel anything when I'm happy. To me, a church is a place of dreadful, awful loss and pain, somewhere I am forced to contemplate life without God, death, loneliness and my own inadequacy and sin as a person. And because of my lack of faith, I cannot pile all of that on to Jesus and let him carry the burden.
If there is a message in all this (rather than just rambling nonsense) it is that the consolation of life is in the moments. A shared moment of joy, intellectual discovery, sporting success, whatever... It could be the realisation that someone has become a real friend, it could even be a difficult moment of sharing something significant. It could be holding a tarantula to impress a small person. What mindfulness teaches - once you get through the hippy claptrap - is that it is the now that matters. Sometimes 'now' is rubbish, of course, but sometimes it isn't. Loss, defeat, frustration, disappointment, these all feature in a full, complete life, and there would be no meaning to joy without them. And I think that is true of grief. So, on the occasion of the birthday (actually, now, a day after) of a departed friend, it is right and proper to offer a toast: "To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die."
Ave atque vale.
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought