I highly recommend Grief and Praise, an evening with Martin Prechtel to you as a resource for dealing with grief and loss. Engaging, funny, poignant, compelling, Prechtel gives full all out permission to be fully engaged with the messiness of life and love and pain and grief in a way I have not seen elsewhere.
One of my favorite quotes:
"You feel pain? Then let it rock. LET IT ROCK."
Oh, such a refreshing contrast to "suck it up, walk it off, keep a stiff upper lip."
Martin talks extensively about how grief and praise are the same thing. That grief is how we honor life. He notes that, unfortunately, in our culture of individualists we do not have the support to grieve properly. We don't know how to support each other comfortably in the messiness of pain. As a result, we end up with a lot of unprocessed "stuff" that can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, not just in our own lives, but potentially in the lives of those who come after.
This line of thought fits in very well with a problem I have long been aware of for mid-lifers. Currently, many problems are plaguing us (spiritually, psychologically, culturally) and I see mid-lifers really suffering, profoundly, in the midst of these challenges. We are all suffering, to be sure, but symptomatically I see those in their 40's and 50's particularly in the throes as evidenced by the notorious symptoms of "mid-life crises", divorce rates, career dissatisfaction, and the use of medications of all sorts...(rich drugs and poor drugs both as Sheila Nichols sings in How Strong ).
My most sincere belief as to why this is so?
We don't allow our stories to be told. We don't allow the dangerous questions to hit sunlight. Not only do we not know how to grieve, we don't know how to process the stuff of our inner lives. We don't allow individuals to express their thoughts and concerns openly about issues like death, aging, the impact of our overriding cultural pressures to consume on our lives, our relationship challenges and our career uncertainties.
We want mid-lifers to be experts, emotionally "tight" and in control, able to cope with aging parents and kids in college and corporate maneuvers and to know which wine goes best with escolar served over a bed of wilted spinach and to be well-versed in the latest sports statistics, best seller, fashion trend and hottest technology.
The cultural message mid-lifers get every darn day: We're supposed to have more answers than questions.
And then there is me...always with some new existential puzzle on my mind...
Many times since I began blogging several years ago I have engaged my own struggles publicly, dancing in and out of dark nights of the soul and existential wrestlings. You can still find narratives of those times in my archives here though thankfully I don't find myself travelling through those dark nights as often as I once did. My readers helped me tremendously in maintaining the courage to admit my struggles publicly, all through coping with my own questions of career choice, my life purpose, my anticipatory grief over Michael and my facing health crises in both my parents. That support kept me going and helped me realize that my struggles were not mine alone.
I feel blessed to have been blogging through so much turmoil because of that support because many of my peers also have more questions than answers right now but so few know it's okay. My readers always encouraged me to dive in and as I knocked down one dragon after another they made me laugh in the way they did it. We celebrated each "slay" together and then several people older started to say things things like, "I want to be you when I grow up." And several people younger said some version of, "You seem to be having a lot more fun in your life than my parents are having in theirs. I wish they would read your blog." When I see you, it makes me look foward to getting older."
That keeps a girl going, I'll tell you what. And in turn I hope I keep you going too. And there are more and more voices out there that I hope you discover here if you haven't found them elsewhere, like Martin Prechtel, a slew of poets like Anne Michaels and Denise Levertov, David Whyte and musicians like Jim White.
As I have gone farther and farther into the belly of life, I have found that my emotional range has expanded and my sensitivity to life has been heightened. I feel more. I understand more. There is very little, if anything, that I fear anymore, including other people's opinions. Sure, I understand there may be consequences. I may never be a celebrity face of anything. I may never make that million (had that ever been a goal?) Maybe I'll just have a handful of really beautiful life long friends and sometimes we'll sit in the woods and read poetry together. Maybe nothing BIG will ever come of my life, in the eyes of the larger world. But for ME? It gets richer all the time.
For most of my life I have felt like I have been swimming in the exact opposite direction of most of my peers.
Listening to Martin helped shine a light on why I should be feeling that way. I have been drifting further and further from the cultural norms around me. The tensions I feel around that make perfect sense. The patterns that we are trapped within are multigenerational. (Which, incidentally, is the subject of my absolute favorite novel of all time, Anne Michael's Fugitive Pieces, as well.)
Individuals cannot change multigenerational patterns. Individuals have a hard time feeling "okay" when they drift from their dominant culture. In the most literal sense, they are not "normal". And yet, once you really sit with big questions, in sincerity, you cannot blindly go back to the way you used to be. The lion cannot go back and be a camel.