Encounters with Grief: by Judy Wolcott Cline

Reflections bring us back to memories and the ability to spend time with those memories may help release comfort and impart strength for the present healing journey.

It’s a process of encounters – wrapped in intimate moments of remembrance. These encounters both painful and pleasant start the healing process. It’s a continuing journey of the grieving heart.

One such encounter with my own painful loss was my recent trip back to England … It had only been a few short months since The Memorial Service of my husband. And afterwards I found that I coped best by keeping tightly-scheduled days and the first on my busy agenda were all the updates of legal matters.

Next came the ongoing process of sorting through personal items – “What to give away?” – “What to pass on?” – “What to keep as lasting treasures?”

I tried to organize and keep it tidy in all the right compartments but heart-wrenching grief often came spilling out.

I needed a respite, a sweet reprieve. And so I planned to return to England in my most favorite autumn season, to visit familiar places and mostly, visit friends.

It was a welcome back visit to England where I lived for nearly a decade as a young married woman together with my husband and growing children. It was a very long time ago now – when we returned to the United States to live – but back then, it was a cherished, near decade of family-life and friendship living in the UK.

Return visits always filled me with delightful memories of our life there so many years ago. I longed once again to see the beautiful English gardens, sip massive cups of tea and eat strawberry scones with piles of clotted cream, and chat in endless catch-up conversation.

It was now and different: this time I returned as a grieving widow folding into the arms of friends who had become cherished, life-time journey companions.

These were the kind of friendships that knew no space of time, or distance. Years earlier, they had accepted me as one of their own. And so, through the years we remained close: we were more like family traveling over the pond to visit on welcomed visits.

This return was different, I would be traveling alone; carrying my own single passport and baggage: making all the arrangements and decisions, and all without my best friend and travel companion for forty-six years.

But I knew too, I would keenly experience the fond memories that My dear husband and I shared in our overseas adventures – adventures which opened both doors of career-opportunities and amazing faith discoveries along the way.

“Now, I was left alone to wrestle myself into a new way of life and I needed their love to help strengthen my journey, the long one ahead.”

I am not convinced the grieving process had fully taken hold at the time I arrived in England. It was all so new – the finality of loss that always is and remains so raw.

His illness had been long-endured and grief journeyed with us in all the ups and downs of fight and struggle. I had known it then, but not at the full extent as I would know it now.

I experienced the immediate shock and newness of loss and grief but sometime afterwards, it would truly and painfully unfold: the ending quietness of his presence, the closed door of his strength and wisdom.
I learned grief had stages and often they followed a familiar pattern. These varied grief patterns would be the painful daily norm, lessening in intensity but remaining still.

“Grief often hides itself in periods of suppression; then suddenly, gripping grief, erupts like smoke-filled molten lava. It sweeps down, belching fiery emotion, gut-like heaving coals of pain seeks to encroach in every pathway. It is impossible to hide from the onslaught of rolling emotions.”

Revisiting Memories: Renewing Life

During my visit to England, I had many special moments revisiting familiar places, renewing friendships and enjoying special places my husband and I enjoyed together.

On one such-occasion, I was hosted to a coffee morning by girl friends in a rather luxuriant hotel. It was a breath-taking environment, a “Downton Abby-style-mansion” turned resort hotel. It was nestled quietly in the beautifully lush-green Oxfordshire countryside.

It was rather intoxicating when we entered the stately sitting room. I marveled at the gorgeous chandelier with its period furnishings and accessories. There in the side area of the large sitting room was a trophied Grand piano. I took a photo of it, while it stood as an opulent, majestic treasure of fitting grandeur.

Closely seated nearby, we drank our cups of coffee and tea, laughed and cried together, as we recalled memories of younger years – those happy years of having our babies and raising our children together.

We continued updating one another of our mutual friends and then talked endlessly about our own expanded families, our grandchildren and careers; and then sadly, I told of our fourteen-year journey with cancer. How it comforted me in sharing the journey.

It was an awesome time of meeting hearts and spirits – as always – we shared our current discoveries of faith and hardships. There were both sad times and happy-ones. And just in years previous, we nurtured one another with our love and friendship as we had often done before.

Reflections of Memories:

Returning home and some weeks past, I reviewed my many English photos. While looking at my coffee morning photos, particularly the photo of the Grand Piano, I recalled a story…

I read of a rich old widow who acted strangely after her musician husband died some twenty-years previous. She locked the keyboard of the piano and the door to the room and would not allow anyone to enter. Only did she allow herself once a day to stand in the doorway with her memories to peer inside the room.

Misguided by her grief she never allowed the lovely music of the piano to be played again. She, therefore found herself locked away from reentering life again. Sadly, she silenced herself from the music that once surrounded her life and that had once filled her home with joy. It was a very sad story with an unhappy ending.

Finding A Pathway through Grief:

The pathway through grief is profoundly painful. It is one lonely path we wished not to travel. But as we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” we may be reassured we will come out of the grief encounter, become stronger, emotionally deeper and more equipped to help others with their grieving journey.

Katherine Sharp says, “Sometimes in your life you will go on a journey….It will be the longest journey to find yourself.”

I conclude that the process of grief in which we primarily mourn our loss, is also a journey to help us find our way to our authentic self. This journey aids our discoveries of our own self, our life as it truly is now. The journey process shows us how to resolve the questions of the future and help us in the long term adjustment.

Facing our own needs in each new stage of process, stretch us to grow into a fuller understanding of who we really are. It also reveals both our strengths and weaknesses. Overcoming these hurtles is important because it equips us to face a renewed future.

May we find ourselves in the completion of the process of grief, more mature and deeply compassionate. And may we be spiritually enlightened and strengthened in faith; to walk confidently ahead without getting stuck needlessly, in the pain and loss of grief.

The Music of Grief:

Rabbi Joshua Liebinan’s book, “Peace of Mind”, says:

“The melody that the loved one played upon the piano of your life will never be played again, but we must not close the keyboard and allow the instrument to gather dust.  We must seek out those aerials of the spirit, new friends who gradually will help us to find the road to life again, who will walk that road with us.”  ~ Rabbi Joshua Liebinan

Life is good in spite of pain and sorrow. We all must help to carry one another during our encounter with grief until healing and strength regains momentum and we are able to complete our own journey. We are then able to turn to others in need and help them regain their footing on the pathway of healing from grief.

Written by Judy Wolcott Cline, January 23, 2016