Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day 215: Moments of Grace

I'm part of a 30-day grief writing course.  Today's writing is in response to a prompt.

October 1, 2014

Today's prompt acknowledges the strange curiosities of grief. Megan talks about those moments of grace when the intense pain is momentarily relieved and we "shift into place." When things are "not 'right,' but righted." I can't tell you how much her experience has spoken to me- how her words have sunk right in and resonated with everything I know to be true now.

What I love the most about this prompt is that she brings with it a warning. "It's tricky to talk about," she writes. "If you share the scarce moments of peace, or alignment or grace, people outside your grief process may jump on it, shrieking with joy that you've found it! You've found the gift! When it isn't that way at all."


I've found the same thing with times that I'm having a great day, full of light and laughter. "You're so much better than you used to be!" well-intentioned friends will say. Or I talk about how grateful I am for a particular aspect of knowing Gareth. "See? Doesn't that seem to somehow make it all worth it? Wasn't that the lesson?" No. And no. It is tricky to talk about. I agree with Megan.

But it's also important to talk about the moments of grace that begin to appear. It's especially important to hear if you're in those very first few hours, days, and weeks. Every once in awhile I'll remember what it was to pull my grief behind me as I trudged to the car, or to the subway, or to my classroom. I remember the weight of it. The sounds it made scraping the ground. I remember the sheer exhaustion of its attachment to me. Of my attachment to it. I remember wondering how it was possible for me to continue crying. And crying. And crying, And crying.

I walked on an overpass in my small town yesterday. It's a small one, but high enough that I could look down over the cars below, if I felt like stopping. I remembered the first time I crossed that overpass, maybe 2 weeks after Gareth died. I had stopped then, and while I had not for a minute considered climbing up and dropping over the rail, I let myself be comforted by the parallel world where this could happen. I let myself play it out and feel relief. I was constantly inventing and watching my own death as a sort of pain-killing device. I was self-medicating with my active imagination.

It's important to talk about this. That it's normal to think these things. And that a day will come, like it did for me yesterday, when you realize you haven't had those fantasies in quite some time. The overpass becomes just an overpass. The cars below are just cars below. Things are being righted again. Everything in its right place without the sudden disaster- the fall, the crash, the explosion, the sudden death. Trust is there that when you go under, you will resurface again. You no longer constantly need an escape plan from the intensity of grief.

There is also no way to tell someone this in the first hours, the first days, the first weeks of their loss. Because it's not possible. It's not a reality. The world has been shredded and set afire and grace, while there, takes a major backseat to immeasurable sorrow. There is no telling a person in those first few hours, days, and weeks to focus on the grace. You cannot tell a newly grieving person that grace is there.

If their loved one is not there, nothing is there. The world momentarily becomes a void that has sucked everything out of it but left you there. It's incredibly cruel. The grace is that we are able to continue at all, those of us hit with immense loss.

Grace. My grandmother's name was Grace. She died some years ago, but she has always been someone I call out to in times of deep sadness. It was interesting to talk to Gareth about this and find out that he felt the same way about his grandma, Nana. We seemed to have this duo of strong and beautiful grandma spirits watching over us.

I remember sitting in our favorite coffee house, each working on some writing, and a "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" began playing. This is a song that will always remind me of Grace, of my grandma. She had been declining, and was close to death during a particular visit. She suddenly opened her eyes, looked to the ceiling, and said, "Oh! Isn't it beautiful!" She was seeing gold coins fall from the sky. Then she began to sing. "Soooooome-wheeeeeere oooooover the rainbooooow, wayyyyy up hiiiiiiigh!" Her voice was old and warbly and beautiful. Grace.

In that coffee shop with Gareth one day in late summer, I wrote about Grace. About Gareth. About that moment where the two of them met. I wonder now if there was some greater meeting happening. Grace, my grandmother, and Nana, Gareth's grandmother. Grace and Gareth. Was there grace happening in that moment? Could I have been preparing myself for grace?

The Intersection of You and Grace

Grace finds me here
sitting across from you
at our favorite cafe
hands reaching across the table
so skin can touch skin

Grace breathes herself in
through lyrics familiar
and chords which swell
in such a way that I can tell she
is here without even looking 

without even lifting my gaze
from the page where ink lays itself
down as an offering
to the intersection of you
and Grace

"Graced with Light"- by Anne Patterson: art installation at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral

The first time I felt this grace was about 2 months after Gareth died. I wrote about it here in a short post. I had read a poem Gareth was writing two nights before he fell. It was a tough poem to read- beautiful words of missing me, being reminded of me, wanting to be with me, and trying to make sense of his own grief. As I read it- reread it, really- I had my first real moment of things feeling "righted." I talk about the "shift." The "deep understanding."

It's important to know that this is part of the fluid state of things in the living after the loss. These moments of grace, these shifts, are not permanent states. They are not indicators that one is "moving on" or "moving forward" or "letting go." They just are. They will happen. They will bring an incredible sense of stillness and connectedness. They may be followed by what feels like a deeper period of despondency. But they will come.

What does it feel like, these moments of things being "righted"? These moments of grace? I must remember to write about it when I'm in that exact moment. Trying to do so later is like trying to describe a dream in detail when you only have the words to explain bits and pieces. It is the powerful dream that leaves you with a feeling, but not with the ability to get the details right. It's a moment of serenity on a spiritual level. A cosmic level. It's big.

It is every cell in my body settling into itself and knowing it is right where it needs to be. It is all things unraveling in the wind and no attempt to quickly weave them back again. It is being mesmerized by the unraveling. By the way the strands cross over and catch the drifts and circle around one another. It is sun-in-the-face and hand-out-of-the-car-window-on-a-summer kind of peace. It is not denial that your love is gone nor a forgetting that it hurts not be with him. It is not making any true sense of it at all, but just being right in the middle of he was here and we loved. He was here and we loved. He was here and we loved.

It is the face relaxing. The brows going back to their right place, resting comfortable above the eyes. It is the throat ceasing to be constricted. It is the lungs filling up with air. It is looking around at everyone doing their everyday thing and thinking, "There is more than this. There is so, so much more than this." It is not being afraid that there is more than this.

Grief can wash over me when I least expect it. It can knock me down in a moment's notice. Grace can wash over me without warning, too. In time, I suspect there will be a rhythm to it. Like my breath. In and out. In and out. Gentle changes, without much thought. Like the tide. In and out. In and out. Grace, as the moon, calling her ocean back again and again. Day, night, and day again. Spring and then summer. Fall and then winter. And back again. There is no permanence in grief. There is no permanence in grace. I will cloak myself in whichever appears, at any given moment, and move forward. Crying. Dancing. Laughing. Twirling. Falling down into grace.


  1. I had dinner with 2 friends and one of them said, "it's nice to see you smile." Though, it was a nice comment, it's easy to infer that these people might find it unpleasant when I don't smile; more specifically, when I'm grieving sadness or anger.

    I, too, have/had thoughts of the parallel world where it I don't take my life, something else does--like being slammed into the back by a big-rig truck that pins me into the one in front of me. I was validated to see the author of a wonderful memoir talk about this in her own grief process. Your description of such fantasies as a pain-killing process is one that I had not thought of, but certainly fits.

    This is so beautiful the way your explain there is no permanence in grief and there is no permanence in grace. I'm going to share this with my grief group. Thanks, you, Bridget.

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  3. Kumit Sameer, also talks about this impermanence of grief and grace (though he may use another word) in his book, "Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Dealing with Loss." There are many beauties in that book, one of which is it can reach anyone in any grief process with any set of spiritual beliefs or lack of religious beliefs.