On Grief – New Year’s Eve 2020

Written for Westside UU and Tennessee Valley UU’s joint New Year’s Eve vespers service, December 31, 2020.

“Grief
Is not an energy
That can be cleared
With sage
Or good intentions.

It demands
To be felt fully,
Because after all –
It only grows
In the void
Where love
Once flourished,
And love’s wounds
Run soul-deep.”

Love’s wounds run soul-deep. I wrote this a few weeks ago and I have been thinking about the grief of this year ever since.

When we love, the energy of that love marks our soul, and we have all lost or been distant from things we love this year.

I love cooking for my friends, most of whom I have not seen in nine months now. I love smiling at babies at the grocery store. I am a Tennessee native currently living in Florida, and I love that moment when I am driving home to visit, just a little ways south of Chattanooga, when I finally see the mountains again. It takes my breath away and brings me to tears every single time.

These moments and experiences are etched upon my soul in the same way that my love for my child and for my beloved community are etched upon my soul. And I feel, deeply, the grief of their absence.

It feels a little strange to name it grief, right? Am I right to grieve the smiles not seen behind masks and the mountains that I will see again someday, but not too soon? Absolutely.

We may be tempted to believe that there is a hierarchy of suffering, that because our losses or struggles may seem less than others’ that we should simply be thankful we don’t have it worse. But denying our grief – and it is grief, without a doubt – will not make it less. We feel loss, we feel distance from love, deep in our hearts, as deep as our souls, no matter how insignificant we may be tempted to call that loss.

And this is all before the losses we know to call monumental – the wounds of the deaths, the illnesses, the financial devastation, the wounds of personal tragedies all compounded and made so much more tender by the grief already hanging in the air of this year.

None of us have been untouched by this grief that hangs in the air. Our grief is valid no matter where it comes from, and it demands to be felt.

That is terrifying, right? So much of our lives are spent actively trying to avoid that which is painful and uncomfortable, pretending everything is ok when it isn’t, saying we are fine when we just want to scream.

Often, we are ashamed of our pain, or of our grief – we somehow believe that we should be over it by now, that we should be more thankful, that we should not focus on the negative. That might make for a more polite or productive society, but it does nothing to actually heal that underlying pain. Social work researcher and vulnerability expert Brene Brown says, “Shame cannot survive being spoken.” She says, “It cannot survive empathy.”

Naming and honoring our grief, even when we might not feel entitled it, to its fullness, to the profound and sacred weight of it, is an incredible act of empathy towards ourselves. And while unlike shame, grief may survive being spoken, it will always be more bearable when held in the loving care of our communities.

This grief, this love, is holy. May we have the courage to speak it and may we hold it in compassion and empathy. May we be held in compassion and empathy, no matter what or how we are grieving.

Blessed Be.

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