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  • Writer's pictureCory McGowan

Grief and Surrender

Recently, the universe is very generous in providing opportunities to be in grief.

I was reflecting a couple of weeks ago on how much my boys have been through in their short early & pre-teen lives. A grandfather who committed suicide when they could barely even understand what it meant for someone to die. Another grandfather who was gone less than six months after we learned he had cancer. A global pandemic. A war breaking out that has the potential to affect everyone on the planet. It is so much for them to be with compared to what I remember having to be with as a boy.

RIP Scorpius the Great

And literally the day after having these reflections, our dog disappeared. Gone without a trace in the span of less than an hour. Despite the way our incredible local Minakami community supported us in the search, there were still no clues. Until we

did get a clue that led to finding him in the worst way possible, so that when the boys got home, I had to tell them their mother and I had just come back from picking up the pieces of our dog off the railroad tracks. Their only goodbye to their playmate who had been at the prime of his life was to touch the tail that was sticking out of the covering in the box that hid what would have been too terrible for them to see.

I’m pausing in between sentences here to release the fresh grief from all of this. And I am so grateful for that release. I am quite practiced at grief, although it has its own flavor of pain every time. This time around what I have been acutely aware of is the power in sadness. What else tells us so clearly that we are connected to the soul of the world? What else shows us that our hearts are open, despite having so many reasons to lock them away and throw away the key?

I was also aided in my grief this time around thanks to having read Malidoma Somé’s powerful and fascinating book Of Water and the Spirit. This passage in particular:

At Dagara funerals, it is always necessary that the members of the immediate family be accompanied by a group of friends in order that they not injure themselves in their paroxysms of their grief. And it is these very paroxysms that are necessary if one's grief is to be purged. Unlike the people in the west, the Dagara believe it is terrible to suppress one’s grief. Only by passionate expression can loss be tamed and assimilated into a form one can live with. The Dagara also believe that the dead have a right to collect their share of tears. A spirit who is not passionately grieved feels anger and disappointment, as if their right to be completely dead has been stolen from them. So it would be improper for a villager to display the kind of restraint and solemnity seen at Western funerals.

Although there are certain ritual forms of mourning, it is no less sincere for all that. Public grief is cleansing — of vital importance to the whole community — and people look forward to shedding tears the same way they look forward to their next meal.

And in my grief, I could model for my sons what it looks like for a father and a man to be in tears, to be a mess, to be confused, and to need comfort from others. A small diamond in the pile of shit that seems to be growing around us.

One other jewel in this recent loss has been for me to understand the importance of surrender. This is not a word to be used lightly in a time of war, but of course I do not use it to mean surrendering to one’s oppressor, rather, surrendering to what is true in the moment.

The pain of losing a family member brought up all of the differences in the ways that my wife and I experience and deal with grief. It brought up some of the less useful patterns in our relationship that we’ve developed over 15 years of being together (the day we picked up our dog’s body was the day before our anniversary). Somewhere in the heat of our fiery exchanges, I realized that I could stop resisting the pain of everything that was true at that time because the resistance was what was making it all so difficult - only surrendering would allow me to meet each of us with love in our grief and loss.

This passage from Micheal Meade’s podcast (a different episode is how I learned about Mr. Somé and his recent passing) helped me to clarify what I was experiencing:

In a sense, we either drown in the splits and the confusions of our lives, or we surrender to something greater than ourselves. Once we surrender, the water of our deepest troubles becomes the water of our own solution. In a mysterious way, our life is resolved.

Surrendering to what is happening, as painful as it can be is not weakness. It is the only option - until we can really be with what is, moving beyond it in any meaningful way is impossible.

There are no easy answers for the complexity of the times we live in. No convenient explanations to tell our children for why things are happening in the world the way they are right now. But our access to the release that grief and surrender provides can never be taken away.

I wish you self-compassionate access to whatever grief you may be in, and the openness to surrender to all that you are experiencing, as scary and painful as that may be.

We can get through this together.

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