Grief, Guest Posts, Kindness

Grief Walkers.

December 30, 2014

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By Mark Liebenow.

There is a deep need for kindness in the world, especially for those who are grieving.

This is not the kindness I first knew, which was really politeness or good manners — asking how you are and expecting you to say something positive, or holding the door open for you to go through. I am speaking of the deeper kindness that comes from concern for someone and responds to that person’s need, what comes from the heart. I am speaking of love unbidden that demands nothing of the one it is offered to, love that seeks only to help the one who stands in front of me. It asks, then listens when the hard stuff spills out, and it stays around to help with the other person’s struggles.

It is also the kindness of how I treat myself. When I grieve, when I feel defeated and unworthy of being loved, when I feel guilty for enjoying life again when my wife no longer can because she’s dead, it’s kindness for myself that is able to reach through my sorrow. It’s kindness for myself that allows me to care about others again.

Until grief placed me on a mountain of solitude, and I saw nothing but burnt earth and ashes around me, I did not understand the power of your hand reaching down to help me up.

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Until my friend Judy, who lost her husband to brain cancer three years before, went back into the horrors of her grief to find something to help me, I did not understand the depths of kindness that are learned only by having to dig through despair.

Until my own beloved died, I did not understand the significance of joy returning to your smile after the death of someone you also loved with all your heart, body, and soul. I did not appreciate the fierce spirit within you that would not give in to death, but fought until you had scraped your life back together.

One of the deepest things in life is sorrow, Naomi Shihab Nye said.

When I lost someone to the tragedy of death, I also lost love for myself. If the person I loved the most in life could die from something simple, then so could I, and I was ready to go. I had nothing left to live for. If everything I had worked so long and hard to achieve could be swept away in a moment, then what I did really did not matter because it wouldn’t last.

Yet what I do does not need to last. And who I am remembered as being isn’t important. What the world and life come down to is now, this moment. If I can offer you kindness, and if I am open to your care for me, then we are free to accept what we need from what is being offered. We are free to enjoy this moment without thinking about the next. We are free to give ourselves to the moment, to laugh, sing and dance, or sit quietly under a tree and watch the animals and birds go about their lives. We are able to celebrate all that this moment is, this amazing moment that you and I live, and our friends live, and all of life is full and rich in this moment that holds the possibility of so much, because in the next moment it all might cease to exist. Perhaps this is why each moment is precious to me.

The other deepest thing, Naomi Shihab Nye said, is kindness, kindness learned from grief, because there is so much sorrow and anger and hatred every day. We need to listen to the struggles of each other and try to help, because we will get through this together, or we won’t get through it at all.

Simply knowing that kindness exists between us, and that if one of us has a need we can ask and the other will respond, then this day, and every day after this, will live in kindness. One day’s blessing becomes the next.

Mark Liebenow’s writings on grief have been published or are forthcoming in journals like Modern Loss, Open to Hope, The Citron Review, River Teeth, Chautauqua, and Under the Sun. His account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with his wife’s death, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. His essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and named a notable essay by Best American Essays 2012. His grief website is http://widowersgrief.blogspot.com.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

"I HAVE DONE LOVE" PRINT: 11 X 14 via Emily McDowell Studio. Click to order.

“I HAVE DONE LOVE” PRINT: 11 X 14 via Emily McDowell Studio. Click to order.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Barbara Potter December 30, 2014 at 10:43 am

    This is so beautiful I love it.

  • Reply Gloria Dearborn December 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    This is a very timely piece for me, as I just lost my mother. I was amazed at the kindness that others showed to me and my family. I also had to be strong for the family as so much had to be done. I wish I had taken a couple of more days off of work and just finished the tasks instead of dragging them out for two weeks.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful words. You have a kindness about you in every day life and do well with helping others. Have a wonderful New Year and continued strength in your writing and your life.

    Gloria

    • Reply Mark Liebenow December 30, 2014 at 3:46 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mother, Gloria. It’s always hard to lose a parent, but even more so during the holidays when we have added chores and more people to care for. Be kind to your self in the coming months. And thank you for your nice words.

  • Reply Lucy8a December 30, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Wow. Just as I pulled this article up on my phone, “For the Good Times” by Ray Price started playing on the tv. Just one of those eerie coincidences?

    • Reply Mark Liebenow December 31, 2014 at 5:06 am

      “Eerie coincidences” are the best kind. Did you know that in quantum physics the distant four quarters of the universe actually touch? I didn’t understand that until I saw it on the Simpsons. There are many more things going on in the world than what we understand. That’s part of life’s mystery.

  • Reply Lucy8a December 30, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    Tomorrow, New Years Eve morning, marks 11 years ago that my tiny shih tzu, Mitzi, rode in my lap as we drove home together for the first time.

    It will also be one week since she rode in my lap for the last time. And I still feel paralyzed with pain inside. She was my fourth furbaby, and I know the pain will subside over time. Now I’m questioning the well-meaning advice of loved ones to wait awhile before getting another furbaby, especially since there are so many needing a home.

    This article also reminds me of the many complete strangers who shared truly meaningful words of comfort because most of them had experienced their own loss in the recent past. And I remember thinking how the words from strangers seemed to be more comforting than some of the condolences I received from people I know.

    There are no coincidences … It’s up to me to make “The Good Times.”

    • Reply Mark Liebenow December 31, 2014 at 5:00 am

      Sometimes Lucy, and perhaps much of the time, our friends simply want us to be happy again, so they want us to set our grief aside and have only happy thoughts. Strangers who know grief know that we do not deal with our grief by ignoring it but by facing it head on and working with it. Since this was your fourth furbaby, you have experience with the time between each one. Maybe one time you picked up the next one too soon. Another time you felt you were ready and waited longer than you thought was necessary. And yes, the need is great for adoption. The time to adopt is when you feel ready. You know you won’t end grieving this recent loss, but you’ll know it’s time when you’re ready to love the new one for who she or he is.

  • Reply Lillian Ann Slugocki January 3, 2015 at 6:56 am

    “Until my own beloved died, I did not understand the significance of joy returning to your smile after the death of someone you also loved with all your heart, body, and soul. I did not appreciate the fierce spirit within you that would not give in to death, but fought until you had scraped your life back together.” This really speaks to my own very wounded heart, my brother died two months ago. We had a life-long bond that was beautiful, tragic and human. These days, I am looking for kindness, and compassion, a grief walker, yes.

    • Reply Mark Liebenow January 3, 2015 at 10:07 am

      The bond you had with your brother seems special because it sounds real, with give and take. This kind of relationship between siblings is not a given, which makes his loss even more of a tragedy. Many brothers and sisters simply get along with each other, but without a sense of complete support, understanding, and acceptance. You probably anticipated that you would have each other around for years to come. This is a loss, too. And he may have been the one best person who could have helped you deal with your grief, except now, of course, he is the one you are grieving, and you have to go through this without his insights. There are grief walkers all around us, Lillian, and I am grateful to Manifest Station for sharing our stories.

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