April 5, 2011
When someone we love very much dies, it can feel like we have no ground beneath our feet. We are catapulted into a vast emptiness, away from the world we knew. We are freefalling, and we have no idea where, when, and how hard we are going to land. This state of radical upheaval has been described as having “the rug pulled out from under us.”
In the opening line of “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis boldly says, “No one ever told me how much grief resembles fear.” When Jenny died, I experienced moments of sheer terror. It was as if one of the poles of the earth had shifted and the whole planet was thrown off its access. My center of gravity was gone and I could not find my footing. I had done enough mindfulness meditation practice to be able to shake my head in wonderment at my predicament. I had not realized how thoroughly I had invested Jenny as being the ground of my existence.
I subscribed to the school of parenting that said a daughter should not have to parent her mother. As a single mom for many years, I often had to fight the urge to confide in my kids, to lean on them for emotional support when I was worried or hurt. Not a natural disciplinarian, it took all my will sometimes to let my “no mean no.” I wanted my daughters to be able to rest in the safety of the loving limits I set for them. I wanted them to know they could rely on me to be the grownup.
Ha. The abandonment I felt when Jenny died unraveled the illusion that I was some kind of benevolent boss in charge of my children’s lives. I quickly realized how emotionally enmeshed Jenny and I had been, and how psychologically dependent I was on her. Jenny made me feel grounded and whole. No matter how turbulent her adolescence became, there was this unshakable bond between us, and Jenny was still the person I most wanted to hang out with. When I was with Jenny, I let down. I was home. When she was gone, it felt like there was no safe place in the universe.
It was tempting to shift my center of gravity over to Jeff, my boyfriend. But somehow I had the presence of mind (a possible result of years of therapy) to sit in the emptiness and explore what it felt like to find validation within, rather than outside myself. Besides, I mused, so what if there is no ground beneath me? What’s it like to hurtle alone through space? And I let go a bit.
Eventually I began to discover that I had not really had the rug pulled out from under me. Instead, it turned out that my rug was a magic carpet, and Jenny’s death had released the spell and lifted the magic carpet off the ground and out into the unknown. This journey has taken me into hell realms and heaven realms, back into the mundane world where I could touch down and rest in the love of my loved ones, and then out into the open sky of consciousness again and again. When I am on the magic carpet ride, the boundaries of my individualized self dissipate, and the habitual sense of separation between me and the universe melts a little. It’s a relief. It’s an adventure.