Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Turning Mourning Into Dancing

As fall moves into the ground to comfort winter, I look back over these scant three months and say WOW! A lot has happened!! It would be easy to focus on "loss" and grief because letting go, releasing, losing and death have been a large part of these last few weeks. I leave "large" crossed-out  in the above sentence as I invite you to consider with me what is loss? What is grief? As I reflectively write I see that there are many losses, lapses, smiles, joys and laughter; and each has been a daily occurrence. I am coming to comprehend that grief is a sadness with which we constantly dance and is truly the sweetener of joy and happiness. 

Now, there are changes that are embodied in my being; rhythms that move as solidly in my soul as blood pumps through my veins. Still, nothing prepares me for the sudden absence of someone I know - however tangential that relationship may be. The broader cultural deaths create a new orientation to the world and the personal deaths re-orient me. In between there is a mindful field to be explored that always yields life-sustaining gifts.

Now, every time a father dies, I revisit my father's death: walking through the initial shock to the first time it settled inside me; stepping beyond I sometimes fall into a moment of ache. I take a deep breath and dive to the bottom to spring into the moment I knew I was going to be okay, and I continue to be okay, returning to the death of this moment of a friend, colleague or client’s father.

As I journey alongside my friend, sometimes she or he will ask: How did you do it?

And I now say: The only thing I knew to do was to walk, sleep, eat and talk with, to and through the sadness. Every day, I got up – whether I wanted to or not. Every day, I got out – whether or I wanted to or not. On the days I had trouble I knew who to call and I called. I had a small group of friends who independent of one another took it upon themselves to call me often. Between them, over the course of several months, I received at least one call almost every day. On the days, I was in trouble, I kept calling until I got one of them. And, in the earliest days (really the first year), I used the rhythms of Jewish practices and rituals honoring death and Jewish practices and rituals honoring life to sustain me.

Once, in the early months after my Dad died, someone said: You must be feeling pretty depressed.

No, I said. I am profoundly sad.

Sometimes - if not most times, sadness is manageable. We mope, sigh, sit or walk alone or with friends, we sing or dance or gladly receive hugs and kisses, we take naps, we meditate or simply shake it off - all to move the sad energy through us. Sometimes the sadness requires more attention because there is more of a rupture in the fabric of our lives and/or a shift in our psyche. Some of these sadnesses are also accompanied by a blessing such as a wedding, the last bar or bat mitzvah in a large family or among a group of cousins, retiring from something you loved doing, or seeing our child become a parent. Still, we find ways to honor our feelings and move through the sad energy.

Then, there is profound sadness. To those on the outside looking at us, it can look like depression precisely because our lighter energy is dampened. However, from my own experience I can tell you that profound sadness or deep grief is not the same as depression. 

When I was depressed, I was numb and I did not want to feel. Inside depression, staying in the world was a daily negotiation. 

When I am profoundly sad, I am in a blanket that is sometimes tattered, leaving me vulnerable, and sometimes amazingly soft, thick and comforting. Either way, I am aware of all around me, deeply moved by nature, ritual and human kindness. Inside profound sadness I still want to be part of the world even as I sometimes hold the world at bay.

In learning to dance with grief I am learning to dance with the fullness of life. It’s easy to say loss is everywhere. Now I now see it is just as easy to say joy everywhere: the turning of the day, the striking beauty of nature, smiles and laughter, conversation and connection, the comfort of ritual, sweet children, kind adults, hugs, good jokes, dark chocolate and so much more. Noticing and appreciating these joys aid me in dancing with grief in whatever manner it appears. The profundity of my sadness magnifies my joy to be boundless and more deeply marked. That’s why I put a line through "large." Yes, I have moved through several major disappointments and losses; and yes, I have gained so many, many sweet and wonderful moments. 

"You turned my mourning into dancing, loosened my sackcloth and girded me with gladness; allowing my me to sing Your Praises and not be still! My G!D, forever will I thank You." Psalm 30 12-13, my translation.


To book Sabrina Sojourner as a speaker or trainer on diversity, leadership or another subject for your group or organization, contact her at ssojourner at ssellc dot net. 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013