With many thanks to Melissa Dalton-Bradford
When you first meet Melissa Dalton-Bradford, one of your first thoughts is “She is the sort of beautiful that makes me feel beautiful.” Your second thought is life is not fair because she is incredibly smart, speaks at least three languages, and is a talented performer.
But when she begins to talk and you learn her life story, you are convinced life is not fair. Melissa buried her 18-year old son a few days after he began college. She laid a son who had been full of life and joy and talent into a coffin. The tragedy belongs in the album of the unexplainable and my throat catches when I think about this, about the loss of this boy to the family, to his church, to his community.
As I listen to Melissa, I don’t stay in that album for long, because she compassionately moves the listener to a different album – an album of hope.
I had the privilege of meeting Melissa in Amsterdam this past weekend. She was the last speaker in what was a conference full of excellent breakout and main stage sessions. I walked away with thoughts on grief and comfort whirling in my mind. It will take a long time to process.
Today however, I want to share the four C’s of crisis care: Compassion. Community. Comfort. Commitment. These thoughts primarily come from Melissa and are just the briefest summary of all she has to say. I would urge those who want to dig deeper to like the Facebook page On Loss and Moving Forward as well as take a look at Melissa’s second book On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn with Them.
“When others help us heal, they too suffer in some way. Suffering is the modest price of real friendship.” Wayne E. Brickey in Making Sense of Suffering.
I’ve spoken about compassion before in several pieces, but here was another reminder that we begin and we end with compassion. We don’t “patch grief with proverbs”[Melissa Dalton-Bradford] We sit with them. The root of the word ‘compassion’ means “to suffer with.” Melissa quoted a line “To comfort me you have to come close. Come sit with me on my mourning bench” from a piece called Lament for a Son. * So we come close, we sit, and we wait.
To commune means to ‘show up.’ If you talk to people who are grieving about what helped the most, they will tell stories with tears running down their cheeks about how people showed up. They came to appointments and to drop off dinners and desserts; they came to funerals and they made phone calls or just dropped by. We can’t do grief without communing and community. And we must bring community to the grieving.
Melissa reminded us that we each bring a strength to the grieving process and to those who grieve. Your strength may not be casseroles. Mine certainly isn’t. But we all have something to bring. She gave the illustration of two artists who painted pictures of her son that captured his life through their art. They gave what they could. Are you an artist, a blogger, an accountant, an organizer, a driver? Come and bring your strength to the one who is grieving.
“All grief will outlast conventional comfort”
“Grief is its own country, its own land mass.”
Whoever created a ‘time line’ for grief should be challenged to rethink that idea.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, pioneer of the conscious dying movement, lived to regret having described the common features of the grief journey as stages. She came to see that everyone grieves differently and that science collapses in the face of the mysteries of the heart. There is no map for the landscape of loss, no established itinerary, no cosmic checklist, where each item ticked off gets you closer to success. You cannot succeed in mourning your loved ones. You cannot fail. Nor is grief a malady, like the flu. You will not get over it. You will only come to integrate your loss, like the girl who learned to surf again after her arm was bitten off by a shark. The death of a beloved is an amputation. You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back.
When someone you love very much dies, the sky falls. And so you walk around under a fallen sky.**
Grief knows no timeline. Three months from now, your friend will still be grieving over her failed marriage. Two years from now, even as she moves on, there will still be times of grief. Ten months from now, your other friend will still dream that her child is coming back, well and whole. Fifteen years from now, a wife will still go to the grave side of the man she pledged her life to and who she thought would be there on her 15th anniversary. Ten years from now the third culture kid or refugee will still feel the weight of grief when they read the news and see “their” countries on the front page. Compassion, community, and comfort need to continue for the long haul.
I wish all of you could have heard this talk on grief and the hope that emerged from the ashes of Melissa’s healing. If she is speaking in your area – GO! But in the meantime, her books hold her story and her story brings comfort.
As I was thinking about Melissa’s talk, reflecting and writing this piece, I saw a picture of the fine art of Kintsukuroi. Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing a broken pot with gold:
“When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.” *
When we are willing to sit with people in their grieving, we are part of this restoration. We help to fill the cracks with gold instead of sawdust, and the damaged, grieving one heals and becomes stronger and more beautiful.
*Barbara Bloom | Photo of Kintsukuroi
**Excerpt from CARAVAN OF NO DESPAIR forthcoming from Sounds True (November 1, 2015)