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On Grieving

As many of you know, my beloved wife, Inbal Kashtan, died this past September. To say that I miss her terribly doesn’t capture it. I miss her in a way that takes my breath away. I miss her when I pet the dog, when I open a closet or the refrigerator, when I talk with our son. I miss her voice, her eyes, her laughter. I miss her in the middle of the night and at mid-day. I miss her right this minute, and I am weeping to be writing of her being gone.

Perhaps you know this kind of loss, this kind of grieving.

While it is a fairly common experience, this grief, there is also an inescapable aloneness to it for me, a part that even my dear, steadfast, devoted friends can’t touch, though they, too, are grieving. This loss requires rearranging my internal terrain, a change of identity, an Odyssean journey.

It is a journey that I so longed to avoid, so fought to stave off. At our wedding in 1996, my cousin sang to us an old John Lennon song, “Grow Old Along with Me.” How we longed to do that. How I longed at least to delay this loss — to face it only in old age. I can’t believe that all of the treatments and plans, plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D, new plan A, new plan B, revised plan C, and more — they didn’t work out. I can’t believe it.

With that, with the shock and disbelief, somehow, somewhere, I also accept that it is part of life, this fact that we lose our dear ones, if we live long enough.

Given that I am faced with it, I feel lucky that I believe in grieving, if believe is the right word. I trust it. I know from my practice of Judaism and of NVC that it is a deep human need, not to be escaped, if there are things that we love in this life. As Inbal sometimes said of medical procedures she was going through or pain she was having, “this is another human experience” — and she gloried in the whole of human experience.

There is a strong current in our society to “look on the bright side,” “get over it,” “move on,” “look at the glass half full.” I’m so grateful for the teaching, from NVC along with so many other spiritual traditions, that the whole range of human experience, from the deepest anguish to the greatest joy, all of it, is part of our journey here; none of it needs to be repressed or gotten over or hurried along. I want to be “out” about my grieving, for whatever help it might be in re-grooving these cultural tracks. I’m not looking at the bright side. I’m grieving. I’m not over it. I haven’t moved on.

I welcome others who are grieving to name it, to accept it, to be out about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the bright side. I love the bright side. I hope for myself that I find my way to laughter and pleasure and joy each day. I hope that the wrenching loss I feel will become less prominent and dominant over time. I’m distinctly aware, even now, of the incredible blessings of my life. My dear Inbal used to say that her life was overflowing with blessings, in the midst of the cancer. My life, too, is overflowing with blessings, in the midst of this loss.

Quite often, the sense of blessing and loss come in the same instant. I felt it this morning, watching a hummingbird dip into an orange crocosmia in our garden — I felt awe and delight at those miraculous wings, the flash of red on the bird’s neck. Then the pang of missing Inbal. I stood in the sun-filled garden, at the very same instant in the light and in the dark.

I knew that feeling — the intensity of the mixture of sorrow and beauty — long before I knew Inbal and long before I knew NVC. Still, Inbal’s life and NVC both help me make sense of it, help me watch it as it unfolds in my heart. We each, in every moment, contain the vastness of life, with its yearnings and losses and beauty. We are bundles of pulsing feelings and needs met, unmet, awake, dormant. Today, I have cried. Today, I have rejoiced. There is so much life in both.

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