As the years go by, I come more and more into the truth of the layers, the currents of grief. There is the big grief, and all the many, many griefs that are caught up in it. There is the grief that will take a lifetime to feel through the contours and layers, and the griefs that can be healed with a good cry or a healthy rage. So often I find I’m feeling big emotion about something, and right under it is that old familiar well of grief, asking for more healing, more understanding, more light.
A friend recently explained her experience of these layers of grief to me as “congestion”—we get caught up in something, a sadness, an anger, a resistance, something getting clogged within us, something asking for attention and care. It’s an invitation into another layer of processing, a grief within a grief, yearning to be felt, and eventually, cleared. The entering in can feel so scary, so big, and sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever emerge. We fear this time we’ll be pulled under this tidal wave of sadness forever. We both marveled together at our lived experience of finding liberation and love on the other side of such immense sorrow. That somehow, we get cleared, hollowed out and freed, if we’re willing to go there, ready to receive the next wave, the next understanding, the next gift that somehow trails every moment of grief.
I have found this to be true in the wake of the death of my beloved sister, the layer upon layer of grief.
It’s a six-year wake now. Almost exactly. Just under six years ago we thought she was going to live, standing in her hospital room, watching her arm somehow move and the neurologist tell us that, indeed, there was still some activity in her brain. We stormed the gates of heaven, conscripting every person we knew and her millions of friends into prayer to please, please let our girl live. Six years ago, in the middle of restless bits of hospital-floor sleep, we jolted awake to the news that our Caity was slipping, slipping, slipping away, that she was ‘crashing’, that any activity in her brain, any life, was bowing in submission to a stronger force of brain damage and eventual death. I found myself surrendering to a stronger current than my prayers for her life; an eternal current, a claim on her life, a Love, much bigger than my own.
I was being asked to let go. To let Caity go, specifically. I could hardly know that in so doing, I would also let go of everything I thought I knew to be, of everything I thought I was.
This is the pain, and the medicine, of grief. It clears us out, it obliterates us. And somehow, it births us into layer after layer, current after current, of becoming.
Birth to a new reality began, for me, in the final days of her life in her hospice room. After the chaos of the hospital and the ups and downs of life and death, we entered hospice with Caity knowing that our only job was to accompany her, to midwife her, into death. All we could do, now, was love her. The world outside was a February Chicago blizzard and we were encased in a world of sparkling white. Beauty, somehow, was everywhere—in the sparkle of the snow, in the tenderness of my family and Caity’s friends, cuddling with her and kissing her, in Caity’s skin as she neared death. She began to glow. Sean, my brother, stood sentinel, barely sleeping except when he fell over he was so tired. He kept us all going in litanies of mantras, prayers, songs and chants. At all times we were to shower her with love and positivity, and we did. We took around the clock vigils so someone was always awake and aware and fully present to her transitioning soul. I believe we walked her across the bridge of eternity, into the arms of Love. I am forever grateful she let us perform such a task, to love her in that way.
The day she took her last breath and her body was taken out of the room, I saw her out the door. Then I found myself running back into the room to place a single red flower on her deathbed, my small effort to seal the space of transition, to remind her soul—it’s ok. You can go my love. Fly. What you leave behind is beauty.
In that time in hospice, I was unable to write. Everything felt thick with timelessness, and somehow full sentences weren’t happening in my mind. It was just love and Caity and God, suspended and formless.
Yet I would find a word or a group of words coming into my mind, I’d write them on a pad of paper and an entire sequence of words would follow. I cherish them now, as poems from that time, poems that I believe, in some way, were given to me by Caitlin, themes to be shared. I have shared one before on this blog; I share more now.
I go back to these poems, still. I go back now, in the six-year-old layers of this Big Grief that continue to emerge, and surface, right alongside every other sadness in my life. It seems to be always there. The shape changes, the dance asked of me changes, but grief is still carving me out, creating something new in me, beckoning a deeper becoming.
I find myself ok with that, surrendering to the grief that comes, still. I surrender because in the grief, there is, inevitably, so much love. A love that is mine and yet not mine. A love that is, mostly, Caitlin’s. A love that, above all, is God’s.
You have brought us to a place
Beyond thought, beyond reason, beyond understanding
Into our hearts
Into this moment only
Into a space where time stands still
Where anything can happen
Where anything is possible
You bring us into something totally new
Untouched ever before in my experience, in my knowing, even in any resemblance of imagining
An unparalleled letting go
This impossible task you ask of us
Bringing us, once again, into Love
Undefined, Unparalleled, never before known
Love beyond our reach?
You whisper otherwise, you tell us it is Real.
Silence and Stillness
A calling within and without
Entering such a strange space
My body cannot contain it.
Certainly not my mind.
You say my heart is strong enough—stronger than I think.
Can I believe you?
Only with this heart.
You tell me fiercely—I love you. I love you all. Tell them.
So I will. I do.
Right now my sweet—give me space and silence to listen. To deeply listen. To experience knowing on a whole new level.
A silence that can hold this inexplicable both-and:
life holding death holding life.
Horror and hope, despair and greatness, immeasurable sorrow and immense love.
Endless tears and dried up desert soul.
No words. Only this. Caitlin,
your death is your life. I am still learning.