Chapter 22 » 22.81


Loneliness after loss is a bitter and unproductive fruit that generally has to be eaten, skin, stone and all. Meanwhile the table bearing the accustomed spiritual refreshment has vanished, as though it never existed.

In the immediate shock of loss there is help. Friends rally, nature supplies an anaesthetic, the doctor offers valium. The crux comes later, just when you supposed the worst was past: companions consider the crisis over and return to their own affairs; the first sharp sting has worn off, and you will have decided to give up drugs. You have no idea what is lying in wait.

But now the real battle begins, the formidable adjustment has to be made. The caring and the sharing will never come back, at least in their past form, and a cold, apparently comfortless, independence has to be shaped to create a life of value. The temptation is to look round for a substitute for the one lost – but people grieving are not their normal selves, they are off balance and their judgment is impaired. A new companionship, if it is to be, is like happiness: no good searching for it, if it arrives it will be as a by-product.

The other temptation is to shirk experiencing the loss to the full when the time has come. A readiness and an openness to the approach of that dark night are necessary. Easy to fill the conscious mind with work, or a contrived ‘pleasure-seeking’, or do-gooding. The unconscious is preparing the pit, and down into it you will eventually be driven. Better go willingly, with all your armour on. For this is in fact the training ground of your spirit, where you will learn how much, through your own pain, you have to offer to others. And so the first and greatest step out of the dark place becomes recognisable: self-absorption begins to give way to empathy with a world of suffering you previously didn’t know existed. People in the first shock of grief will be drawn to you, and you, no longer a newcomer to that world, will have found your listening skills.

As to that delicious and sustaining food you were accustomed in happier times to peck at, why, there it is again, and you haven’t recognised it. The former sustenance was only fit for children, and has been replaced by helpings of insight appropriate to your increased maturity.

Margery Still, 1990

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