Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Details and grieving

Hardest part of dealing with death: detail management. Most important effect of detail management when dealing with death: it keeps you moving forward when the prevailing impulse to just plop down by the side of the road, and stay plopped.

Grief is a difficult thing. Because the loss we experience is so final, we experience this odd dichotomy of leaving a piece of ourselves in the past with the person who has died while being forced by the autonomous principles of life to keep breathing, thinking, feeling, existing. In order to keep that person in the present, we try both consciously and unconsciously to do this odd split. What results is a sense of being frozen in time. If life had TIVO, then we could hit "pause" or perhaps even rewind. It doesn't, so we try to split ourselves in order to hold on to that last moment. Impossible. Time keeps on unfolding, advancing, carrying us forward into each new moment. The sort of attachment that would allow us to hold on to someone who has died would mean that we could freeze those moments. Paralysis. Crystallization. But that is not life.

So, dealing with the details keeps us moving forward. Focusing on task keeps the "attaching" part of our mind occupied and lets the emotions work themselves out. Sort of like working out the worst sort of emotional and psychological "muscle" cramp. Do it too fast and the pain is unbearable. Do it deliberately and slowly and you might get those proverbial muscles to release some tension without a sense of protracted agony. It does not make it better, but with each advancing moment of life, it gets easier to keep moving. In other words, dealing with details builds forward momentum and discourages inertia.

Still, grief is also about holding on to moments and memories.

So, as we grieve we live suspended between interacting with what needs to be attended to and taking time to collapse and be inside the pain of loss.

Funeral planning is all about that dichotomy. Planning keeps us focusing forward toward a moment in which we will for a short time freeze time and space and hold that dear one close to us one last time...Even as we acknowledge that we can't stay in that moment.

Today has been a task-driven day. Getting the liturgy ready. Contacting the involved parties in the service, preparing the burial spot, running the programs, making the phone calls, coordinating food and flower deliveries. The staff is moving through those moments as we anticipate tomorrow.

Grief, it freezes us and pushes us forward.

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