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Wandering the Desert of Grief

I am pretty sure to grieve is to live. To live is to grieve. Life is painful. Hard. Full of loss all the time. It is also beautifully rich, amazing, wonderful and affirming. We must have both, they need each other like light needs darkness for contrast definition. If one is lacking, we miss some of the depth of the other.

I saw Nomadland last night. What an amazing film. I love Frances MacDormand. She has such a gift for telling a story with her face. Her eyes so expressive, kind. They are the kind of eyes that can transmit sadness, ire, love, longing but never hate. I like eyes like that.

Watching her move through the loss of her husband, town, home, job, existence, life and have it all condensed down to her van, affected me. It got to me. I sat in the theater alone, crying silent tears, as I do now too.

I understand that kind of grief even though I have never lost a husband to death, a town, a job, a home, a life. I understand what it feels like to grieve so much for a life you loved, a person you loved. Though my circumstances different, I too, felt it hard to go on as I was. I felt like I no longer fit into the regular life. I felt lost.

My grief did not cause me to wander the desert. But it could have. There were moments where if I did not have children, I might have opted to leave. Move. Run. But the kids prevented that from being an option. So I stayed. Wandering the lonely roads of my mind.

I have written about grief before. And I shall write about it again. In Mayan culture, there is just one word for both. To praise is to grieve, to grieve is to praise. I get that. Grief is what you do when you have loved well, deeply. Praise is what you do when you grieve. I love that these two concepts are intertwined. One cannot be without the other.

The longer I live the more sure I am that grief is a great lesson for us. And that sometimes in a person’s life, there is so much grief that they cannot go on as they had before. The usual, acceptable exit strategies of daily living, do not work. The effects of grief so profound, the person must leave regular life. Must wander their own internal landscape, adrift from the tethers and ties of a “normal” life. Fern lost everything save the van. Everything that mattered to her, was removed. And she was not able to cheer it up, to move to a new town and begin again. She had that option, but in that new place with those new people, there was no room for the grief. The new life required her to check the grief. To set it down and for her, perhaps, there was no setting down to be done. It had been given to her, and now it was all she had.

Grief is reliable. It will always return, often in new form, in a different way. It might land in your jaw, your gut, perhaps that place just below your collarbone. But it finds it places within your skin and you can't ignore it if you are lucky. But those who cannot ignore, feel it the rest of the days of their lives. They can’t not feel it.

Loving means losing. It almost matters not how the loss occurs. Life’s losses an accumulation of grief piled on. Sometimes, you cannot rebound. Sometimes you cannot go on. There is no forward trajectory except to wander lost with grief as your only constant companion. Grief takes up residence in life’s passenger seat, your forever plus one. And even though there might be many others willing to take grief’s journey with you, you can only go alone. The space in your body, life, soul consumed by all that left you behind. And there is no other path for you. You can’t jolly yourself out of this path. You can’t pretend. You can’t ignore. You can’t suck it up and start over.

It takes a lot of courage to allow your grief to take your life while you still inhabit it. To wander through the days, possessed by all that left but still occupies. In the movie, I saw a community of wounded healers. Brining joy to tiny corners of their lives, each in their own way. Each still allowing for joy to overshadow pain however briefly. And they went on living because to do otherwise would cut short the praise of all that they grieved. And that too much to ask of anyone who has loved completely. The rest of the days are given to exalting by living with the grief. Allowing it to consume, hold, take all remnants of the past and string them into a long forward trajectory that creates its own wasteland redeemed.

Some people love so deeply that they cannot go on as they had before. I am not sure which takes more courage. Watching the film, I have to say that wandering the desert seems like the only logical thing to do when one loses everything but still has life to live. Meeting each moment pregnant with the present moment, which makes room for the mantle of grief to be held. Holding on while letting go and letting go to hold on day after day, mile after mile. Nomadic life a stark relief to life’s hard trajectories, to a person’s shattered heart. Wandering somehow a balm to the fractures, if only from place to place.

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