Many of my wonderings about grief lately have been bound up with the idea of full experience and its effects. It’s a very different concept from “moving on” or “moving past” that we generally hear in one form or another after someone’s death. What does it mean to become a grief practitioner? Sounds a bit frightening at first. Will I be sad all the time? My observations of grievers vary widely and for some it’s not possible or even advisable to go all in, especially at first. Yet for those who do endeavor and have the capacity to enter the experience with eyes open, to grieve like there’s nothing “wrong” with it and breath it in like the air, is there some kind of transformation that gradually takes place?
Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life…is death.
I was introduced to the countercultural notion that being a “practitioner of grief” is the pathway to the love of life. My somewhat obscure instructor, Stephen Jenkinson, is the author of Die Wise (a book I reviewed for the Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support) and the former director of palliative care counseling at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. His distilled and revolutionary proclamation about a grief practice is this: ‘Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life…is death.’ He not only believes it’s possible to have an inner life whose joy is rooted in “knowing well” that it will end, but that it may be the antidote to much of the fear and anxiety the dying have about what will become of them and what we will do with them after they die. Will we be able to live as if they never lived? He posits that grief in action is the ‘willingness to remember great sorrow, unsuspected loss, blank pages in the story of who we are.’
Nothing since Kissie’s death has been more real, more equal to the prospect of the rest of my life with her physical absence, than this lived and felt attitude about my grief — that death has always been the cord of connection to my love of life. And that my practice of grief is my continuing cord of connection with her.
“Grief is a way of loving. Love is a way of grieving.” – Stephen Jenkinson