Grieving has never been easy for me. Some people grieve deeply, with tears freely flowing and it could take years for the feelings of sorrow and inner emptiness to lessen and heal to the point where they become bearable. I have never been able to do that, grieve the way many people do. I think it is a gift to be able to feel deep emotions of that nature even if they are painful, for they show that there is life and the ability to love deeply. I have often wondered what it would be like for me to experience true grief in my life. I am not saying I don’t grieve, but that I repress much of it. So perhaps I have a lot of unresolved issues yet to deal with. Perhaps, one of the reasons for our lives and all that happens in them, are to allow us to develop the ability to not only to love, but to grieve as well.
I was reading a story this morning about a woman who was ill with breast cancer. It was a very harrowing experience for her, with a great deal of pain. A few days before her death she told her sister that an Aunt came to her (who had died a few years previously) and said soon she would be taking care of her. This allowed the woman to die in peace which was also a consolation for her family, especially for the sister who took care of her. For some reason reading this moving story, opened up to me some memories from the past.
My family moved to Panama when I was ten, and it was a truly happy experience for me to live in such a wonderful country. My memories revolved around three women. The first was Mandy, who was Jamaican (in fact all three women were Jamaican); she came to our house a few days after we moved in and asked if my mother needed any help with the housework as well as taking care of her little army (my term not Mandy’s). There were nine of us, of which eight were in the 11 years old and below range. The oldest (his nick name was skip), being 18 and who would soon leave to join the Navy, which he seemed to like, he stayed in for 8 years.
Mandy was a kind gentle woman. She was also a good cook and to this day, I have yet to find chicken and rice that taste as wonderful as what she would make from time to time and bring to our house to sample. She was like a loving aunt, and mom and dad seemed to like her as well. She was treated like family and in fact two of her daughters would also work for us from time to time. She did not live long after we came down to Panama; I think she died in 1961 and I missed her.
The second Jamaican woman was Rita, who was very tall and could be strict with us when the occasion arose. She had a daughter “Olga”, who was even taller than Rita and I can remember her at times picking up my twin sisters and carrying them up stairs from the carport that was under the house. The houses in my neighborhood (Gulick Heights) were above ground. The carport and washing machines and some closets for storage were all under the house. Rita was a devout “Seventh dad Adventist” and to this day my strongest memory of her is her standing by the ironing board (boy did we have lots of ironing to do, I hated doing it) and reading to me from her little New Testament. Every time I see a New Testament this image always comes to the surface; an image that is almost 50 years old. She worked hard to get her family up to New York, though some made the choice to stay in Panama. After she left to go toNew York, to be with those children, who allowed her to get them there, I never saw her again. Though she did write once to tell my mom about her first experience with snow while walking down one of New York’s streets; “Mrs. Dooley (for some reason that was the name she gave us, never saying Dohle) I was walking down the street and it started snowing, I just stood there with my arms wide open and looking up at the sky, feeling like a child and laughing. The people around me thought I was crazy”. We never heard from her again.
The third was not a woman at the time; her name was Gloria, and when she came to live with us, she was about 4 years older than me, she being 16 and I, 12. She was a strongly built girl, pigeoned toed, so she was not pretty in any conventiall sense, but she had the most beautiful smile and loving way about her. I think mom and dad were going to adopt her, but something happened that stopped that. I think her mother was abusive to her so she ran away and stayed in an orphanage in a small town. I am not sure how much education she had; I remember she had some trouble reading and writing, but she was intelligent and we became close.
She did not stay with us very long, though the time line is a bit foggy. I do remember however very clearly the day and the situation which caused her stay with us to end. I remember Rita coming in very angry one day over an incident that happened when Rita took Gloria to see her mother; for what reason I am not sure. It seemed that both of them were forced into a car and when they arrived at their destination, Rita was tied up in a chair and the mother talked to the daughter. Whatever the mother told the young girl it seemed to help her make up her mind to return to her old home, so Gloria went back to stay with her mother. I remember the last time I saw her. We went into the city of Colon to return her things. My mother was very sad, but also happy that she was reconciled (she hoped) with her mother. Gloria was on the street with her mother. We pulled up and returned her belongings along with some money that my dad brought for her. I was so sad and did not get out of the car to hug her goodbye. As we drove away, I could see her looking at our car and she did seem sad.
This morning while reading the above story about the woman dying of cancer, this memory of Gloria came up and I felt a deep sorrow at the loss (and, which is very unusual for me, I cried a little). It was like one of my sisters died and as usual I did not know what to do with it. I think I am really screwed up in this regard. I wonder how much inner grief I have that I won’t allow myself to feel. Is it an ocean; will I drown in it if I allow myself to feel it deeply? I envy people who are in touch with their emotions and can express them, while with me, well they kind of shut down on their own. Though as I age, they seem to be able to express themselves in little ways, kind of sneaking out when I am reading, or listening to music.
When younger, I thought that when I got to the bottom of anger I would find even more anger, so I was afraid to go too deep, just content to deal with it as it came up and tried not to take it out on anyone. Now, over the past few years, I see that it is anxiety that lies beneath the anger. Now I think below the anxious fear is sorrow, deep wells of it, and again, I don’t think I am alone, for we each have inner burdens, perhaps repressed that still effect our lives in ways that keep us from living fully. Yet we also grow, if we desire it, so the inner limitations slowly drop off as we age. There are leaks in the inner damn, so one day perhaps, the leaks will become a healing though painful flow, of actually being able to grieve consciously, just as I have learned to deal with my anger and now trying to learn to deal with my anxieties.
Purification is not punishment, but healing. Hell is a state in which healing is rejected. Perhaps healing and forgiveness go hand in hand, both for ourselves and others as well, and for those who follow a theistic path, also allowing God’s mercy to shine deep into the wounded areas, to consciously to allow ourselves to be seen as we truly are. So, if we each carry heavy, hidden burdens, then compassion and empathy are a way for us to journey together on this pilgrimage we are all on, for we all need to be accompanied, we are not meant to be alone on our journey.