Grief consumes energy. Psychic energy, physical energy, spiritual energy, mental energy.
Everything I do requires a long recovery period. Everything I think or feel requires an even longer one. A lot of effort precedes infintesimal movement and then a slide backward.
I have been thinking about the story attributed to Cherokee tradition that Sharon Watkins preached at the National Prayer Service earlier this week (I picked it up at Meaning and Authenticity):
One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces. "There are two wolves struggling inside each of us," the old man said. "One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self-pity, fear... "
The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love..."
The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: "Which wolf wins, Grandfather?"
His grandfather replied, "The one you feed."
The problem with grief, I think, is that both wolves are integral components of its reality. You cannot, at least in the first months, nourish one to the exclusion of the other and expect to emerge intact. It sounds heroic, I suppose, to say that you will choose to feed hope over fear, compassion over resentment. But the truth of loss is that it calls you to friendship with the scary and the disheartening as well as the brave and the wise.
Maybe there is a third wolf. A wolf whose compassion and faithfulness enable her to acknowledge that the fullness of experience requires her to feed self-pity and resentment at times.
Does that sound awful? Resistant and pathetic?
I don't think so.
At the end of the summer, a few days after our son died, one of our friends, a woman who lost her husband to an accident a few years ago, talked about the resentment she sometimes feels when she sees an elderly couple walking down the street together. Why couldn't that have been us, she wonders? Self-pity? In a way. But her articulation of genuine pain was an act of generosity to us. Had she starved her anger and resentment, she would have less openness and compassion for a family beginning a new journey of loss.
I don't think you should be feeding steak to the angry wolf. But I have a feeling that if you kill it off, it will find its way back, viscious and snarling and larger than life. Better, perhaps, to stroke it gently and nourish it with kindness so that, someday, the third wolf will emerge, the one who blends joy with sorrow and power with rage into a shaggy and compassionate whole.