Making Love With Grief

“Playing the tuba is helping get the sad out.” 

Raina casually mentioned that after band practice the other day.
Makes sense.
According to Chinese medicine, grief lives in the lungs.
[This week’s commentary isn’t for the weak of heart. As always you can skip through the indulgence of words and get to the LOVE IN ACTION (aka sweet treats & good news) at the bottom.] 
Today I’m here to say, grieving doesn’t have to destroy you.
But It will force you to decide if you want to live or die.
And it can destroy you-- if you let it.

I've been intimate with grief. When I was 15, my closest friend in High School, Sheila, committed suicide. Not long after, my mentor and the woman who introduced me to the world of theater and the first teacher to encourage me to sing, committed suicide. In college, one of my closest friends, Gemma, and the first young woman who showed me what it was to be strong and vulnerable, died in a car accident. I witnessed Mary Lou, mother to my childhood close friend and beloved to my own mother, fight with cancer to the bitter end. The man who showed me I was lovable after I was convinced I wasn’t after leaving my first relationship died in a freak wilderness accident. I’m going to stop my list here. It will sound like I’m bragging if I continue. The point I want to make is (aside from that I used to joke that being my friend could be considered an insurance liability):
I know grief from the inside out. 
And this much I know is true, while you might be able to dance with fear, you don’t dance with grief. You get yanked down into the mud. Thrown against the wall. Choked till you can barely breathe. And then you roll around in the guts and the bowels of existence and get covered with the bones and the bits of life and death and everything you didn’t know existed in-between. And from there, covered in the agony of loss, grasping for what cannot be held, in deep relationship with the unknown, you make your choice: to alchemize the life force that had the power to break your heart-- into fuel your soul.
You let grief destroy you.

You choose.

It doesn’t just happen. It takes time to decide. Sometimes it involves laying spread eagle on the land begging the earth to take away pain you don’t know how to let go of yourself. And it involves dancing. And tequila. And sobbing. And a few of the people you love will be daring and bold enough to come close, but they can’t fight this fight for you. It is yours to do alone. Then one day, you notice how the light hits a leaf and ignites the color in such a way that it brings a smile to your face, and that is when you realize for the first time that you hadn’t noticed beauty for awhile. You watched more Buffy reruns then you cared to admit in public, went on crazy adventures its ok to forget about, you danced so hard you yanked your neck out. 
But when you are ready to rise, soiled, and your hair all messy, when you are finally able to catch your breath, wipe your blurry eyes, remember the strength of what it is to stand on your own two feet. Then, and only then, are you ready to be courageous enough to wash away the mud that when you weren’t looking transformed from captor to protector from the world. And then this new chapter with grief involves being willing to wash away the remnants of grief that keeps you separate from all of those other people. Those…happy… people.

When you can stand, heart open, knowing that with every breath you take in the name of being alive will invite grief to take you again, and again, and again…
Only then can you say, “I survived grief. This time.”
Not every one makes it to the other side. Some stand, but take their heart and hide it away in their back pocket never to be seen or heard from again. I get it. I’ve wanted to take my broken and heavy heart and throw it over Niagara falls. It hard work to lug that thing around.
But I digress. We were talking about how you didn’t just survive, but now you’re thriving because you know that your life force has increased and expanded in a way that can’t be measured.
I didn’t die with Sheila, Chris, Gemma, Mary Lou, Jeri, Sam, or Ali.
I live the way I do because of them.
Every ounce of laughter, and joy, and celebration I experience is chosen over and over and over again.

We are living in times that are asking us to grieve.

So much of what we love is being taken away.
Between the murder of innocent people to the destruction of innocent trees and molestation of innocent rivers, and threat of what we care for, it’s hard to be fully present on this planet at this time, and not hang out in the bowels of grief.
The truth is, I don’t have it in me to grieve for everything that is being taken.
Maybe you do.

Grief claims many victims. It can be a quiet killer that steals the life of those who refuse it, taking up residency as a permanent back seat driver that won’t ever shut up and just let you enjoy the ride.
But there is a strange rule in the universe, by sidestepping grief, you miss out on life.
The trick to grief, if one could be so sacrilegious as to claim there is such a thing, is to let it run through you.
Roll in the bones and the muck and the dead decrepit teeth of grief. Do not wallow. (Except when you must). Do not be lazy in your approach. While fighting like hell for victory, find the nourishment when you eat the bones. And be generous with your grieving. Let your tears water the rivers. Sing the grief into song. Nourish us with your courage and boldness to live.
Stand in the victory that you are stronger.
You will have earned your right to pleasure.
You will have earned your right to love again.
You will have earned your right to a good long belly laugh, to look first for the good in people, to experience joy in random moments, to delight in deliciousness, especially in grieving times.

If you aren’t partying for the planet, dancing yourself awake, singing yourself alive…you’re missing the point of this story.
I’m going to tell you a secret about surviving grief.
Each and every time it comes from you, it runs you over and knocks the wind right out of you the exact same way it did the first time. There is no escaping the pain. But once you have known grief, it is different. Because this time, you won’t be fighting with grief, and the unknown of if you have what it takes to survive grief.
Because your bones know, your heart knows, and your soul knows, that you have what it takes to stand and make love with life in wild abandon yet again. This time, it will be akin to meeting a familiar lover, and she will pull back the covers of your bed and invite you in. And it will be a dark night of the soul, and it will be the kind of love making you do when you know that it is the last time with a lover, sweet and agonizing all at once. I’m here to say, if you can get through it once, you can get through it again.

And here is another truth. Sometimes, the circumstances of life, what is required of us, doesn’t let us grieve. And we find ourselves standing in the grocery line being strangled in a way no one can see while we take too long fumbling for change. And that is true too. Oh truth. What a naughty naughty word.
In the meantime, I hope you learn how to play the tuba, and blow out the sadness in your lungs. And I hope when I die, my funeral will be by the ocean. And that those who gather will bring tubas and will fill the air with a ridiculous cacophony of people playing the tuba for the first time.

There would be hilarity in that.
And that would be a good thing.

(For the record, my stepfather wants bagpipes to be played at his funeral.)

In case you missed it: Air B&B is offering free housing to people stranded by the immigration order.


Let your breath be swept away by the gravity defying moves of Sergei Polunin.
7 Ways to Take Care & Take Action
(written by yours truly for spirituality & health magazine)
FEB 10th 12pm PST / 3pm EST
ONLINE STORY CIRCLE: Celebrating The Life, Love, And Wisdom of those who were lost and survived the Holocaust. 
When the administration decided not to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I decided to host an online story circle remembering the life, love and wisdom of those who lived and lost during the holocaust.
 Join us online this Friday at 12pm PST. Have a story to share? We want to listen. Can't come live, register and you will receive the recording. 

Lets embark on an exploration through the most ancient language of myth, symbol, and metaphor as we commit to living in the largest way possible in the times we are living in. 
FEB 11th

Soul Story Circles Feb/March: 
These are free private house events and are happening in Mill Valley, Sebastopol, and NYC. Ping me for the details (and do tell if you want to host a Soul Story Circle for your community).
Here’s to learning how to play the tuba,
with all my love,
Paintings by Sally Bowring