grief and happiness and truth – a meditation

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I'm getting questions about how I'm handling my news/illness emotionally—as though grief ought to be tidily
boxed to one side
or apparent always.

Neither.
Some think I oughtn't make my way to each moment,
glad
or if I am glad
I must no be accepting what I've been told:
likely no way out of an early demise.

But the truth is: Individual moments are not
filled up with grief.
They're just moments,
with sun out, blueberries in a bowl,
a poem before me on the computer.
Why should I not be happy,
moment to moment?
A time may come when
I am utterly sad without end;
but that isn't now:
I've far too much to do
and I feel well.
Why should I miss the time I have?

Of course I grieve.
But it's mine to say how, when.

Nancy Shaffer

Nancy was a friend. She died in 2012 of cancer. During her last year, as she did all her life, she wrote. She wrote of her days, of her feelings, of her fears, and of her hopes. Her writing from that last year has been collected into a book, recently published. I have been reading through her last year of life, a few pages at a time. I can't read for long, because it is so real, so raw. I have to stop and let it sink in, and let myself recover from, as a young friend says, “so many feels!

In this poem, I find truth. Truth that stopped me in my tracks, as I read it. Truth that even in the midst of grief, in the certainty of her own death, she could still enjoy the moment. I have found this truth in my recovery. The truth is, that I can choose to be miserable. I can choose to wallow in misery, certain that the bad events in my life have doomed me to never find joy again. But that misery is not true. It is a story I tell myself, so that I can blame another person, or the world, for not always having things my way. The truth is also, that I can choose to have happiness in a moment, a moment of blueberries enjoyed in the warmth of the summer sun. A moment of happy celebration of a friend's triumph. A moment of quiet and calm in the midst of the chaos that is my life today.

A friend says, “I can control only my actions and my attitudes.” This is truth. What happens is rarely in my control. My feelings come as they will. But I can choose how I respond. I can choose what I do, and I can choose what story I tell myself. Pain is not optional; it will come. The attitudes of suffering and misery, the story of “woe is me”, those are optional. Today, I will choose to see the happy moments. I will not deny the pain, but neither will I focus on it.

Thank you, Nancy, for all you gave us, and continue to give us.

A meditation for June 6, 2013.


Nancy Berns talks about holding joy and grief together, and on the fallacy of “closure.”


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