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The deeper sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain

(Kahlil Gibran)

 

Sorrow, grief, the heart squeezing pain surges in waves that spill over eyes and down cheeks……   We all know the feeling.  In the wake of a loved one’s death, the end of a significant relationship, twins loss and grief become constant companions. Ebbing and flowing,  waves  of grief wash through the body, at times almost unbearable, then, receding, eventually, bringing a strange calm in their place……..until the next wave comes.

 

What is it that gives birth to the waves of grief?  The bonds of a deep love broken apart, and the memories of the love shared. But more starkly, it is thought.  Memories become thought, and thought becomes emotion.  Without the thought – there is no emotion.

 

I know this. I have been witnessing it, sadly, through the life of my mother.  My mother has Alzheimers.  Her short term memory has been reduced to seconds.  In the past few years, she has lost all capacity to remember what she just had for lunch.  Yet she is strong and well in her body – and she retains many of the character traits that we’ve always known and loved – she is happy. She comments frequently on the beauty around her,  in nature and in other people, she smiles  and sings and sways with the music and you feel her contentment. 

 

A couple of years back she went through a period of sadness    – when she must have known on some level, what was happening to her. She seemed to withdraw.  Too scary to say much,  it would have  been a shock to be corrected or informed about what had happened in the recent past, and to realize she didn’t know anymore what was going on around her.   Now, she keeps conversations short and they are necessarily superficial.   But she is happy.  Her uncomplicated personality  is more so now.

 

In short – my mother lives absolutely in the NOW.  Isn’t this the place the spiritual literature tells us we need to be? I’m here to tell you, this is not where we need to be.   Mum is completely absorbed in what is happening around her in this, one moment.  There is clearly some contentment in that space for her.  But for us, the path is not so easy.

 

In January this year, my father died.  Mum and Dad had been happily married for 62 years.  From the age of 19 – to her now 82, my mother’s world was constellated around Dad.  He was the centre of her universe.  Their partnership was one of love and mutual respect.  An archetypal model of a ‘traditional’ marriage, Dad was the undisputed head of the household – creating a financially secure and emotionally supportive world for his family…..Mum was the epitome and embodiment of the perfect homemaker. They had their respective roles, but they worked as a team. Dad would talk about this with me. It was the reason my marriage had failed  in part, he said, because it was not an equal partnership. My husband resented me being at home bringing up four children.  It didn’t bring in money, so, in his eyes, it had no value.  Dad, by contrast, in his wisdom, acknowledged and valued, often out loud, the role my mother played, as mother of four, home maker and equal partner in the various projects they did together.  And for Mum, her life was one of deep contentment.  There was little she did, in her 62 years of marriage that did not involve my father – and she couldn’t have been happier about that arrangement.

 

So what has happened to that bond of love, now that Dad has passed away?  Mum shed no tears for my father when he died.  She still hasn’t. She has to be told, over and over again, that he has gone.  She says then, ‘that’s terrible’ – and her thoughts, in a flash, are back in the present. Unlike us, she does not feel the waves of grief; the terrible sadness of realizing she will never see the strong and courageous man who was the centre of her world, again in this life. Never again hear his voice, his laughter.  There is no ache, thinking about all the years past, the happy times, the laughter shared.  No pain of nostalgia for the joy, the sadness,  the shared memories of good and hard times…… not for anything and everything that was woven into 62 years of life together. 

 

I wonder where it went, that depth of feeling, the huge love I know my mother had for my father.  It was only a short time ago that my brother said ‘the two have become one’ – a perfect expression for the last years my parents spent together.  Mum seeking out Dad every moment of the day, always aware of his presence. Dad taking over more and more of Mum’s job description, as her dementia increased; his denial about the seriousness of her condition, as he quietly and courageously became her caregiver.  He was only in hospital two nights before he died, the second morphined out of this reality; the first, conscious and worried about Mum.  ‘Who is looking after Dawn?’ he asked.  He cared deeply about  the love of his life to the end. 

 

We know it is her condition, of course.  But knowing that doesn’t help.  It doesn’t answer any of our questions.  What it tells us though,  apart from the futility and impossibility of living completely in the now (we cannot function in this world without our memories)  is – we need our memories to feel the emotions that make us human.  My mother is still a warm and beautiful human being – but there is a void, where the emotions that made her her used to be. We need healthy brains to receive and translate the memories held in the ‘mind space’. Without them, the memories are free floating somewhere in the ether – unanchored to the personality and the body that created them.  There is no identification with the past, because there is no identification with anything anymore.  My mother exists in a bubble of reality that is different from ours. It is as real to her, as our illusory reality is to us.  But she is no longer a participant in the consensual reality.  There is freedom in that, perhaps.  No memory, no responsibility. It is the freedom of nothing left to lose. Everything has gone. No identity, no ego, no attachment.  And it is an empty freedom. Without real emotions we are shallow, fraudulent versions of ourselves. We lose the identities we have spent a lifetime moulding, and by which others know us. 

 

Grief, loss, sorrow, bereavement – these are painful feelings – but perhaps we need to treasure them.  As Gibran reminds us, we need the depth of grief to carve out space for our joy.  Without depth in the soul, life is a strangely vacuous, superficial experience.  And depth in the soul is the gift of living through all of the emotions.  This human condition demands that we feel it all, and we are wise not to deny or diminish the natural expression of our feelings.  If we do not fully feel and express our emotions, or we cannot because our biology  no longer receives the frequencies of memory,  we are not really living at all. We are walking in the world but we are not engaging with it.  Life without feeling is like time out. It may be, in some mysterious way, a rest for the soul, an opportunity to re-charge. There may be, on a soul level, a higher purpose to living without memory.  This, we cannot know.

 

For most of us, the learning we can take from our beautiful, beloved family members who are afflicted, in our eyes at least, with this condition, is that through them, we can know what it is that makes our lives worthwhile.  And it is not the stuff we’ve accumulated, or even the experiences we have acquired, valuable though these are – it is the love we have given and the love we have received.  The bonds of love we create, those bringers of such joy and equally, such pain when they broken  – are, when all is said and done, the only thing that makes  this life worth living. And I  believe that the love goes on – with or without this transitory mind and body. Like energy,  love is never wasted. 

 

For my Mum, the love she held in her heart, for my father, is waiting somewhere, out there , to be retrieved one day and take on with her, into a new life,  a new heart…….And I am certain she will find him and together they will carry on where they left off; separate and together, once again.

Thank you my beautiful parents for the lessons in love you have given us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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