Anne Lamott on Grief

I’m currently reading Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott and her commentary on grief is spot on.  Anyone who has suffered deep loss or heartbreak will probably say, “Me, too” a couple times as you read through this excerpt:

“Grief, as I read somewhere once, is a lazy Susan. One day it is heavy and underwater, and the next day it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day numbness, silence. I was hoarse for the first six weeks after Pammy died and my romance ended, from shouting in the car and crying, and I had blisters on the palm of one hand from hitting the bed with my tennis racket, bellowing in pain and anger.

…I am no longer convinced that you’re supposed to get over the death of certain people, but little by little, pale and swollen around the eyes, I began to feel a sense of reception, that I was beginning to receive the fact of Pammy’s death, the finality. I let it enter me.

I was terribly erratic: feeling so holy and serene some moments that I was sure I was going to end up dating the Dalai Lama. Then the grief and craziness would hit again, and I would be in Broken Mind, back in the howl.

The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it, like a nicotine craving, I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away. After a while it was like an inside shower, washing off some of the rust and calcification in my pipes. It was like giving a dry garden a good watering. Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does.

Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit. Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible. You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession. Martyrdom can’t be beat. While too much exercise works for many people, it doesn’t for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering.

But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won’t hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things; softness and illumination.”

I can especially relate to the retail therapy, “helping” others, and becoming a workaholic to avoid the pain.  

After reading this, I realized that I was not a freak of nature because I felt like I was trapped in a jar of blackstrap molasses.  I was simply grieving and needed to face the losses head on.  So I cried… a lot.  And exactly as Anne said, “the flecks and nuggets of gold” in life starting washing ashore in the tears of my grief.  It’s true that the only way out of pain and suffering is through it.  There is no way around it.  How have you dealt with grief?

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