Grieve and Work at the Same Time


For Grievers

We can grieve and work at the same time.  In fact, we must.

When a death occurs, we immediately move to tend the body, inform the community, prepare to gather and feed the mourners. It’s a false picture to imagine the bereaved having nothing to do but sit around crying. The time right after a death is filled with unavoidable activity.

Post-election with the triumph of Trump so many of us are having a death experience. We imagined that the values and aspirations expressed – if not lived – when this country was founded would surely prevail. We could not imagine that a man who … well, you know the list of all those he has targeted with the most repellant words and actions.

We might be tempted to dissolve into our own private grief and shock. Some of us might even have the protection of privilege to do so if we, say, are white or a Christian or live in a blue bubble. But to move through the death experience work is required.

This idea of grief and work going together is not abstract to me. Ten days after my partner John died in a car crash, I had a job interview. I’d just helped John through a work transition and he was helping me through mine. Now he was gone and I felt my very survival depended on getting this job. I went for a second interview and labored over my test assignment. I started that job 31 days after John’s death. In the immediate aftermath, I worked and I grieved. I am not special in this regard. This is the norm. The necessity of lives changed by death demand action.

So what is the action to take?

There is no one action to take, no magic medicine available. To move through this national death experience will requires a whole ecosystem of actions. Some more heart-centered and focused on immediate support. Others strategic and electoral to move us toward the greater vision we have choice to keep working toward.

I don’t have the answer on action, but here are some offerings out of the grief experience

Listen to and Support Those Who This Death Experience Impacts the Most

People want to rush to make the grief disappear. The grief is not going away. You can’t make it go away. Better to listen to it.

On my morning drive, I heard the lesbian feminist African American writer and activist Barbara Smith say that now she knows she is a third class citizen and that she would not be smiling at any point today. A first action step for those of us not on Trump’s target list is to listen to the devastation that his election has created.

As you listen to individuals and organizations most targeted, you will hear requests for action to be taken. Do what is requested. Sign up for national action lists like Color of Change or Showing Up for Racial Justice. Reach out in your local community to mosques or immigrant organizations. These are just examples.

Don’t Let Your Grief Keep You from the Good

My sister is a good grief companion. Talking in the early hours of the morning, she said, “I am going to take one positive action each day to counter the messages of hate. I am going to sign up right now for the community meal at the church in support of the refugee family we are sponsoring. I can do this.”

Gather with others who are committed to the good to find the energy and inspiration to move forward.

Go Through the Fire

There is no way out. We must move through what has been exposed by this election’s results. No, we can’t escape to Canada. We have to clean up our own mess (and they don’t want us anyway).

What we are facing is not a new reality. And the deadly implications of inequality are already well known by the communities targeted by Trump. But those of us more privileged are now having to face up to the results of trying to sweep under the rug the systemic impacts of enslavement, genocide, and sexism that were the realities behind the values and aspirations that were just words in our founding documents.

This morning I woke looking for a quote from James Baldwin I’d recently read and remembered as inspiring. I returned to the words and found them to be more sobering then I remembered, but also more necessary.

“If we – and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others – do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophesy, recreated from the Bible is song by a slave is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time.” James Baldwin

We did not achieve Baldwin’s vision in his lifetime nor yet today. We are now in the fire. There is danger and death here. Hope may be irrelevant. The rainbow invisible.

But Baldwin’s exhortation to Love still stands.

I have been surprised to find through my grief experience that Death does not end Love. And I don’t mean the kind of romantic, every-thing-is-happy love, but the Love that tells a harsh truth or weathers a betrayal and still opens a river within us to follow its flow forward. This Love demands risks. This Love will no doubt drive us to make mistakes. But this Love is not destroyed by Death and calls out to us to recognize it lifting even from the fire and follow it to act for the good of the whole.

Yes, we can still choose Love.

Leave a Comment

November 9, 2016, 5:47 pm Michele Rapp

Thank you Carolyn for your timely wisdom!! Michele

November 14, 2016, 12:22 pm Lynne Feinberg

Thank you, Carolyn. Courage and hard wok ahead! Much love…

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