From the Archives: Warning: Grief Ahead

I’ve been blogging long enough that I can finally pull a few things from the archives. I’m reposting Warning: Grief Ahead from last December. I don’t need to recount the brokenness of the world today, the mass shootings, the terrorism, the xenophobia, the sheer awfulness of the things humans do to each other. I can’t formulate the words to express my thoughts and feelings. I’m muddled and I don’t know that I have much hope at this point. But in addition to holding my kids, I hold to what my son said at the end of last year’s blog post: The dead are underneath us, holding us up.

R is for…Regret

I had several possible R posts – R is for reflection, R is for risk, R is for reward, R is for The River – one of Bruce Springsteen’s best albums. I settled on regret.

One of the reasons I visit so many cemeteries is to be in the presence of the dead, those who lived and died before me, who undoubtedly faced some of the same questions I wrestle with:

  • What do I want to do with my life before I die?
  • What does it mean for me to live a good life?
  • If I died today, what would be my biggest regret?

Going to prairie cemeteries and being among all the dead settlers is sobering. I didn’t die of diphtheria or suffer crushing melancholia from the incessant prairie winds. I have a tremendous amount of advantages in my life. So the cemetery visits do remind me to be thankful and cultivate gratitude.

I’ve made peace with the fact that I might die with regrets. I have regrets right now. There are decisions I made, things I said (or didn’t say), opportunities I didn’t pursue or risks not taken that I wish I had. Sometimes I wallow in my regrets, believing that if I’d taken other paths I’d be living a glamorous, exiting life with no hardship or pain. (This says more about my inherent need for control than anything – there is no such thing as a life without some hardship or pain, no matter how many “right” choices we make.)

Then I remind myself that the past is gone and can’t be changed. Perhaps a better response, instead of regretting what I did or didn’t do, is to appreciate how those decisions have shaped who I am right now, healthy, happy, writing. All of the causes and conditions in the universe have led to this moment.

So the question instead is, what are you going to do with this moment? And the one that follows it? And the one that follows that? I’m thankful for the writing I’ve done. I’m grateful for the choice I made to keep writing. I choose to follow this path, at least for the next many moments. I’m sure there are still things I’ll regret, but writing isn’t one of them.

(PS – I haven’t read the book mentioned in this post, but I like a lot of what’s mentioned here about the top 5 regrets of the dying, so I thought I’d share.)

New Year’s Eve in the Cemetery

I went to the cemetery today, even though it was bitingly cold. Many of the gravestones were decorated with wreaths and clusters of holly.  One had a feeder that was being heavily used by deer and birds, judging by the tracks in the snow.  There were paths worn by (human) footsteps around many of the graves, bearing witness to families who visit loved ones in the cemetery every holiday.  I wasn’t visiting anyone in particular today but the tracks in the snow reminded me of the many griefs I carry, both new and old.

I was going to use this space to comment on the past year and talk about my intentions for the one that arrives tomorrow.  But that seemed somehow trite in the face of grief, both mine and yours.  Instead, I’m going to watch the sun filter through the branches of the Christmas tree and simply sit with these feelings of loss, as well as the ones offering possibility and hope.

I wish you time and space for your own reflections today, both of the happy times from 2014, as well as the losses and disappointments that occurred in your one beautiful and precious life.  Be well.