The Twinship of Grief and Love
“Love, where it ever existed before, doesn't cease to exist. To speak of love in the past tense is not to know love at all. Love goes on, being always a continuation and an extension of love. Your grief is but the continuation of the love you once experienced, and will always experience. Grief is another name for Love.” (Jennifer Williamson)
Western culture has always had a very uneasy relationship with grief. Where other cultures and ethnic groups have integrated the inevitability of loss into the fabric of their society, providing structure and support for a grieving process that is both accepted and even celebrated as a normal, healthy process throughout the lifespan, here in the West you are given a few days to attend to the emotions and details of the loss, such as planning and attending the funeral if a death was involved, and then encouraged to “move on,” whatever that entails, depending on what it is that you have actually lost (a relationship, home, job, person, or pet, for example).
The COVID 19 pandemic afforded us many opportunities to experience grief, whether in the form of routines and activities we were accustomed to, like our gym workout, dining out, popcorn and a good laugh or cry at the movie theater, hugging friends and family, or attending live events like church, school, work, concerts and other outings that we used to take for granted. Amidst toilet paper, mask and laundry soap shortages, other things were also in short supply: concise, trustworthy information and reliable leadership. We became fearful of the future and even each other. Breathing the air and touching each other became potentially dangerous. Some of lost loved ones, including my mother in law. Some of us lost livelihoods, a sustainable income, our health or our home. We all lost a sense of safety and security. We are now emerging from a time of uncertainty and upheaval in different ways depending upon our particular experience of the pandemic, and need to develop fresh pathways to engage in the necessary grief process of adjusting to “a new normal.”
According to Stephen Jenkinson, Creator and Principle Instructor of the Orphan Wisdom School, grief is “a way of loving that which has slipped from view, and love is a way of grieving that which has not yet done so.” He believes that grief is not a feeling, but a state of being that holds true throughout our lifetime, and that we must become “practitioners of grief” in order to truly participate in the experience of deeply loving another. Grief acknowledges the impermanence of love, a recognition of its temporariness: the baby we are rocking and holding today becomes the adolescent who rebuffs a hug, a beloved canine companion on our daily walks becomes crippled with arthritis and lies on his bed watching us lace up our shoes to go without him, a long awaited trip ends in a series of photographs that barely do it justice, a loved one’s spirit nestles in our heart rather than on the couch as a physical body next to us at the end of the day. Grief does not necessarily need to be a traumatic experience, but becomes so when experienced in isolation, without understanding and support in the context of connected relationships. Grief becomes embodied as trauma when we walk its path alone. Jenkins asserts that if your love includes another being, grief is part of love. They are twins that reveal each other, two sides of the same precious coin. One does not and cannot exist without the other. Just as we need other beings to experience love, we also need other beings to help us navigate grief. He concludes: “You don’t get invited to many parties if you become a practitioner of grief, but your understanding of love is renovated for all time.”
Making grief our companion rather than our enemy allows us to grow through the process into a new sense of self, one that is ultimately more joyful and hopeful as we embrace the rhythm of love and loss so inherent to our existence here on earth.