A grief journey will take you to dark places you never imagined. Creativity will light your path home.
“But when he went, it was like the other half of me disappeared. And we have this physical experience in loss of falling toward something. It’s like falling in love except it’s falling into grief. You’re falling towards the foundation that they held for you in your life that you didn’t realize they were holding.
And you fall and fall and fall and you don’t find it for the longest time. The shock of the loss to begin with and the hermetic sealing off is necessary in grief. But then there comes a time when you finally, actually start to touch the ground that they were holding for you. And it’s from that ground that you
step off into your new life….” ~ David Whyte speaking about the loss of his friend, John O’Donohue (On Being podcast)
Renowned Irish poet, philosopher, and priest, John O’Donohue, died suddenly, unexpectedly, and peacefully in his sleep when visiting friends in France in 2008. He was only 53 years old.
The loss of his passion, spirit, heart, and poetry was piercing, crushing. His dear friend, poet David Whyte, was among those who experienced the loss of John most profoundly. In his “Elegy for John O’Donohue,” David beautifully captured the experience of his grief and the enduring presence of those we have lost:
“The invisible conversation you held while you were alive can still be heard in every shadowed wall, in the birdsong of morning, and in the last light of evening; the final rays above the river drawing the shape you make in the air by your absence. So that even in the warmth of the southern night I hear your laughter singing from the same familiar sunlit nowhere you always inhabited even before you left and that still flows with me, morning or evening, invisibly close to where I go.” ~ (Excerpt from “Elegy for John O’Donohue” by David Whyte)
Tumbling into the Darkness of Grief
As Father’s Day approached, my thoughts turned to the person who was my John O’Donohue: my dad. Of course, it doesn’t require a holiday to prompt my remembrance…I think of Dad every day.
Losing Dad was precisely as David Whyte describes…falling and falling and falling. Falling backward, head over heels, like Alice in Wonderland down the rabbit hole. Tumbling, tumbling, tumbling until I could recognize and touch the ground that he held for me.
Ralph deVille was one of those rare people whose presence alone helped others make sense of the world, because he was held together by a profound recognition and appreciation of Beauty, Art, Creativity, and Unconditional Love.
When his presence was no longer in physical form, I had to journey through my grief to find each of those precious elements for myself.
Creativity begins a new conversation after the depth of our grief journey begins to ease and moves us forward back into breathing. John O’Donohue said that an unseen life dreams us. I would add that our Creativity dreams us into fully becoming. A cycle that repeats over and over throughout our lives, most especially as we are surfacing after experiencing profound pain and loss.
The Creative Climb
Creativity is our ladder up and out of the darkest caves of being. Each rung…each step…takes us closer to the center of whom we truly are, and opens the seams of darkness to let enough light fall at our feet.
Our instinct is to distract ourselves, buffer emotion, deaden the pain. But if we work the musculature of our grief, the tendons will loosen and give way to a softness that manages to support us. We work those muscles with pen, paper, color, and using our hands.
Our hands engage in a healing circle with our brain and our heart. Working out the grief like a dough on a floured table. Stretching. Pulling. Shaping. Transmuting the jabbing edges to soft notes of new music we didn’t know we could play. We can hear the tune inside our head and tap it out with ink, paint, ingredients, dance, or words.
That music leaves us and travels across the fields present, past, and future to land on broken hearts that need mending, including our own.
The Gift in Your Grief Journey
“When your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you a meadow of delight. “
~John O’Donohue (1954 – 2008)
If the ghost of loss is in you now, I send you comfort and peace. Let us walk in fresh air together, even though we all are apart, and acknowledge where our grief journey is turning us, shaping us on the lathe of life experience. With each rotation, we can seek and find what soothes us most: the discovery of the rich color that surrounds us and gently encourages us forward to make and meld colors of our very own.
The colors that become the gift to ourselves now and then to those who live on after us.