Last week my seven year old daughter woke up in the middle of the night deeply upset because she doesn’t want us to die.
We have been pretty open about the concept of death, rather than treat it as a taboo subject (it was treated almost superstitiously when I grew up). Moments like this can call into question that approach.
And so it should, because it is such a tricky one. The line between grief and fear is difficult to navigate, and carries such immense implications.
I am coming to understand the importance of grief. Another taboo subject though – something to be shy about or ashamed of. It often gets treated like a disease in this world of insane happiness-chasing. This is a tragedy, especially if grief-avoidance makes me choose to tell my daughter that everything is alright and there’s no need to cry.
It is important for her to cry. But over time it matters so much whether she is crying out of grief of fear. For me, fear leads me to freeze, avoid risks and conform. It turns my soul to stone. Grief is the opposite. It awakens me, tunes me in to beauty, through acknowledging the loss of beauty. It moves me to action, but from love rather than fear.
For me, grieving isn’t about finding things to be miserable about. That’s the screwed up perspective from the World of Insane Happiness. Grief involves dwelling in a different world. Stepping into this place opens up a lot to grieve about, things that would be sniffed at in the mental busy state. What can such a Privileged Person possibly be entitled to grieve? Well, the dreams that never came true perhaps; the paths I was too afraid to tread. The friend I never was. The times that I didn’t think I was good enough and sacrificed myself to please other people. The days I failed. But worse, the days those failures made me scared, and so I failed to understand their deep significance.
If I truly enter into these thoughts, I feel something stir.
But grief goes deeper than that, into things much greater than me. Like the slow grinding extinction of beauty in the world, of seemingly inconsequential things that compose our life support system (the World of Insane Happiness either groans or yawns at this point). These things can often seem abstract to me until I connect with them through grief – and then I become intimately part of it .
In due course I know I’m going to have to lower the veil and begin acknowledging to the kids how so many things in the world are dreadfully fucked up, endangered, lost. I have no interest in raising them into a bubble, so that they can gleefully help inflate it (if today’s bubble is actually still available to them). The usual reaction to the world’s screwed-upness seems to be fear hand in hand with denial and inaction, a diminishing of what is human. To react with grief to our time-bomb of desperate destructive growth (and to our own death for that matter) is to stop and see the beauty of the world (and of life). These are the central ingredients of a life well-lived… and then well-died. But it might involve a few inconvenient tearful nights.
Every tear tempers the grief into a powerful driving force. And out of grief can come the other major soul-toucher, love. Not the superficial form. Providing well, saying nice things, buying nice things – these are all glossy modern day expressions of love, which prevent me from actually being able to love. They are distorted refractions of the soul, through the lenses of morality and expectation, and consuming.
A child experiencing soul-love and soul-grief from a parent, seeing a person being electrified rather than paralysed by it, is the one of biggest gifts a child can receive. Striving for this is surely a major factor of what it is to be a man, to be human. And to not know it increasingly seems one of the biggest forms of abuse, albeit usually accidental.
Like so many things, I need to do the vital work on myself, give myself the time and space to do it, before I have a hope of spreading anything but fear when it comes to others suffering sleepless nights. I pray for the strength to do this.