A crowded solitary journey

It’s been three months since my sister’s passing, and so I checked in with my brother-in-law Joe to see how he is holding up.

When I called he was in the process of placing a coat rack he saw in a junk shop in Tennessee into his already crowded living room. “I’ve had my eye on it and brought it home,” he related.

I felt a great rush of relief hearing Joe was keeping busy, even if it was simply rearranging the deck chairs, so to say. I know he will be physically OK. But not wanting him to get off that lightly, I acknowledged that the nights spent alone with our thoughts are the worst and he quickly agreed.

“I keep waking up to give Anna her pills or expecting to see her sitting in her chair,” he related, with a catch in his voice.

I certainly get it. I just blew through the second anniversary of my loss but still get gobsmacked. And it was the weeks leading up to it that hit me hardest. The week of Jame’s passing was relatively emotionally uneventful, in part due to having a distraction planned on March 14th.

But as busy as Joe is keeping himself with his church, neighbors, and siblings in nearby Tennessee, he already knows something it took me a while to figure out. Grief is a solitary journey. No matter how strong your support network – and we both have solid ones – you walk it alone. All of the outer trappings of life can’t touch the core of that feeling of loss and aloneness.

It would likely be easier to walk that walk, if random thoughts and memories did not continue to elbow in with painful reminders and “what if’s.”

Alan Watts, British spiritualist and philosopher who died in the 1970’s, lectured and wrote prolifically about religion, Zen, the confusion of the mind – way before it became fashionable to do so. He talked about the split in our thoughts between “higher self and lower self” and whether we have the power to choose which voice (example: reason vs. emotion) we chose to listen to. He stressed the importance to overcome this “split mindedness.”

To get moving on this inner struggle, he touted the importance of stream of consciousness, where thoughts come and go like a ball bobbing down a gurgling stream, not sticking but moving on. It’s when thoughts become stuck in our mind that confusion and disturbances breed. Easier said than done, I say!

But I’ll continue to try to take away some pearls of wisdom philosophers like Watts imparted to ease my solitary journey. It will take time and mindful practice. And being the imperfect beings we all are, surely continue to be a road occasionally blocked by bracken and other obstacles.

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