Thoughts On Grief


In a bid to make a blogger out of Karen, I am sharing another excerpt from our email correspondence (with Karen’s permission). I value her wisdom and compassion so much and really think they deserve a wider audience.

Dear Marie

Thank you for your hello, for thinking of me.  and yes, the responses to my story that you were so kind to post are amazing – I still go back and read them every day!  and the trip was really lovely; though still a “first”, a lot of emotions from being overjoyed to tremendous longing.

The thing about where i am in my grieving, is that the savoring and delight in the afterglow of happy occasions is always short-lived. I still go back to an empty house, and to the echo of a deafening silence.  the only way to re-capture times of being happy is to read about them in the Letters I write to Hugh, or the “Writing for my Life” segments within those Letters.  I notice that since the first anniversary of his death, this is more severely pronounced and perhaps it is because the pall of shock has (mostly) lifted.

We who have been in cancerland speak often of scars, both external and internal.  it’s occurred to me that widow grief’s purpose in the long intervals of its pain and stultifying loneliness is to make sure each aspect of our loss is thoroughly dealt with through every phase of our awareness as we try to move forward.  perhaps the new, more intense pain is a form of scarring us, not as a cruelty (as it is so often perceived) but as a way to help us prepare for the re-birthing of the new “after” life that we need to develop; and when we reach some semblance of a life of meaning and purpose and joy, we will see those scars as symbols that we came through the darkness and survived.  nothing worthwhile simply happens or suddenly appears.  But dear god, I keep asking, aren’t the happy times and memories of them and gratitude felt just as therapeutic as is surrendering to grief – to shore up feelings of well-being and hope?   at this point, the grief is so much more consuming, and i hate that i can’t FEEL all the good things when i am stuck and trying to figure out the trigger that is often so elusive.  during those times, my name for it is the “Flat-line Blah”, i have been entertaining the question, is grief trying to fucking KILL me???

But sometimes as I gain some morsel of insight and there is a respite from the Flat-line Blah, I can re-fuel and do something productive.  last week I thought a lot about the fact that we had no funeral and no memorial service for Hugh; that was his wish and we honored it as he wanted.  I was thinking about what a kind and generous man he was, that he always talked about the importance of paying it forward – even in the darkest times during the years of his illness and suffering he was still grateful for all he had, and thought of others – the forgotten, the disenfranchised, the needy, those who were alone and needed something or someone to notice them.  his friends and our family have recounted so many stories of how his love and altruism touched the lives of so many.  so i decided that on his birthday this year, September 26th, we will launch the first annual Pay it Forward Tribute to Hugh Sutherland with a letter encouraging family and dear friends to honor his memory with acts of kindness.  It feels so good and right and perfect for a way to turn outside of ourselves and follow in the footsteps of the legacy of love Hugh lived and left for us to continue. i composed a letter to send out, and proposed a note be sent back to tell about how people paid it forward; then at some point I will compile stories and send out another letter to let everyone read the results.

Sending you much love and deep gratitude,