“All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them,” said Isak Dinesen who wrote Out of Africa. She knew a thing or two about sorrow, having lost her father to suicide, her husband to divorce, her health to syphilis, her lover to a flying accident, and her beloved Kenyan farm to bankruptcy.
Karen Karp, a longtime friend of Chris’s and mine, reminded me of the quotation the other day when she sent me a New York Times article called (ironically) Getting Grief Right by psychotherapist Patrick O’Malley. He points out that the so-called stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) have become a dangerous kind of orthodoxy.
Trying to measure the progress of our grief against this yardstick creates a false expectation that it can be contained or managed. Rather, he says:
When loss is a story, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no pressure to move on. There is no shame in intensity or duration. Sadness, regret, confusion, yearning and all the experiences of grief become part of the narrative of love for the one who died.
I am learning that things do change but also that the process of grief does not follow a predictable path. Though time heals, the heart is ruled by kairos not chronos. One day I notice the sunlight, the next all seems dark; one moment I laugh, the next cry; I curse and pray in the same breath. Like Dinesen, I write because the story is all I have and telling it is the only way I know to bear the sorrow.
There may eventually come a time of acceptance, but today it’s the heart cry of poet Eldridge Knight that echoes in my mind:
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing