The Well of Grief
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief
turning down to its black water
to the place that we can not breathe
will never know
the source from which we drink
the secret water cold and clear
nor find in the darkness
the small gold coins
thrown by those who wished for something else
~ David Whyte ~
(Where Many Rivers Meet)
My mom would have been 77 this week. She died 4 months ago, and I find myself at the bottom of the well of grief today – somewhat unexpectedly. But hey, as much as I anticipated that her birthday would bring forward the grief, I learned that you can’t plan for the really heart-rending days in advance.
I understand the resistance to feeling the sadness, the lethargy – trying to cope, saying, “I’m fine.” Well, I’m not fine today. Today, the little girl in me is wailing for her mommy. After months coping, I’m turning down below the surface, into that black water that David Whyte talks about in the poem above. I’ve never really understood the last line of this poem until now. I do want something else. I want my mommy back.
The grief coach part of me understands that I had an ambivalent anxious attachment to my mother. Let’s just say we had issues. I keep hitting the “replay” button in my memory about how relieved I felt to drive away from her the last time we parted. What hurts right now is I can’t press the “replay” button in life and redo that last time we spent together. I know I would have held on a little tighter, opened my heart a lot wider, and told her how much I loved her (and meant it).
I understand the process of letting it go. It doesn’t make it hurt any less right now.
So, I get out the tools of my trade. The free-form writing, Gestalt dialogues, Self-Counseling. I comfort myself. Cry as long as I need to. Hug the dogs. Play music. Go out for a walk. Phone a friend. Give myself the gift of forgiveness for the judgments I am holding against myself – and my mom. Do a reality check on the guilt. The truth is I’m a loving daughter who was always doing the best I knew how to do. The other side of the coin is that she was doing her best too. Always. I just miss her and feel my heart aching with the longing to talk to her just one more time.
Fast-forward a week. I’m grateful to say I climbed out of the hole I dropped into. I did, in fact, use my tools, hugged the dogs, cried all my tears, worked in the garden, played music, and called on my supportive network. I talked and talked to anyone who would listen. Expression truly is the first step in healing.
And I did find those small gold coins at the bottom of the well. Let me tell you about them. They are not shiny, they do not gleam enticingly, but they are precious as they are hard won. My gold coins are the gifts I gave myself during the time I spent in the bottom of the well, pouring my grief out into the water. The gifts: 1) clarity that I can let go of the feelings of guilt because I recognize all the ways I did honor my mother and my love for her while she lived; 2) peace knowing that she chose to not have my brother and I be with her as she died because she wanted the dignity of her process and to not have to bear our pain on top of her own; 3) knowing that I am strong and resourceful and I will be fine without her; 4) understanding and appreciating that she was an extraordinary soul and she lives on inside of me.
And, I realize that these gold coins do not wish to be hoarded, but shared with others in service. I have gifts to share of wisdom, compassion for myself and others, knowledge of the territory of transition and loss, and willingness to go down into the well of grief to find other people who are stuck there. I carry a rope to tie around their waists and help them climb out again into the sunshine.
Another gift I received was the loving and understanding from my friends and colleagues. I was also affirmed in the knowledge that the processes and tools I share with my clients who are grieving do, in fact, work. I spent a week down there. It could have been a LOT longer.
This is the “secret water, cold and clear” – it is living into the truth that grieving does not need to be done alone in secret. It is embracing my human frailties and vulnerabilities as a source of true strength – as strength of heart.
If you find yourself stuck in the well of grief, it can be a dark and scary place. You might not know how to get out of there. Supporting people through steps of turning down below the surface, finding the small gold coins, drinking the secret water, and re-emerging to climb out of the well and go out into the world a changed, but stronger person is my calling. I’m here for you because I know how to be there for myself.
Love and Blessings on Your Journey,