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.
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.