Friday, August 9, 2013

Wendell Berry on Grief

One of my dearest friends lost her beloved father two weeks ago. I don't even have words to write about it. Loss like can I even attempt to describe it? I can't, not well enough to pay tribute to my friend or to her father. 

Lucky for me there are writers who are better equipped. Today I was so grateful to read some beautiful passages on grief in Hannah Coulter, the novel I mentioned I am reading for our book club.

Grief is not a force and has no power to hold. You only bear it. Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.

As my friend and I have talked, one of our recurrent themes is that in the powerful moments of life, the moments that take us to our knees, everything distills to this: our relationships matter. Nothing else does. The way we relate to one another, the love we show each other: this is eternal. I think we are bound to one another with threads like those Berry recognizes here. We stitch ourselves together with all of our kind acts, with each of our kind words, with mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who stand in need of comfort. 

Berry later notes another element to loss: Grief transforms us, but eventually our grief itself transforms. Our souls need respite, eventually, and the natural progression is to allow this shift. (Side note: If this shift doesn't occur, it may be because grief has morphed into depression. And that is a whole different ball of wax, one that might need a little outside help to work through..)

At first, as the months went by, it was shameful to me when I would realize that without my consent, almost without my knowledge, something had made me happy. And then I learned to think, when those times would come, "Well, go ahead. If you're happy, then be happy." No big happiness came to me yet, but little happinesses did come, and they came from ordinary pleasures in ordinary things: the baby, sunlight, breezes, animals and birds, daily work, rest when I was tired, food, strands of fog in the hollows early in the morning, butterflies, flowers. The flowers didn't have to be dahlias and roses either but just the weeds blooming in the fields, the daisies and the yarrow. I began to trust the world again, not to give me what I wanted, for I saw that it could not be trusted to do that, but to give unforeseen goods and pleasures that I had not thought to want.

I am so grateful for gifted writers, for men and women who have rich experience to draw from, for observations they have made that help me better understand the human condition. 


Megan said...


Cath said...

I'm sharing that first grief quote from Berry with my friend Kara. It's wonderful. And I love your discoveries in the post below. Your soul is a beautiful one Kerry! xo