My failed 75th birthday celebration Part 1
The process of encountering gateways and realms and formulating questions and issues may sound complicated. But, in practice, it is not. It’s a process of deepening our understanding of our grief and what our grieving self needs at any given time. Below I explain how I use this model to help me to accept two painful situations, resolve them in my mind and heart, and move on.
APPROACHING AND PASSING THROUGH THE FIRST THREE GATEWAYS
Let’s apply our healing model to my present circumstances. Take today, for example. It’s my 75th birthday. For reasons that remain a mystery, my plans for a birthday party imploded, and I had to cancel it. Deciding to avoid any more pain, I book a trip to Seattle: my “foreign” long-weekend adventure (140 miles away). Not surprisingly, the blues visit me that afternoon, as I settle into the leather couch in the lobby of the iconic 1907 Moore Hotel in downtown Seattle, observing leaden skies, and tracking raindrops beading on fogged windows.
I could feel sorry for myself. I could cry.
Or I could seek support from the healing model that Karl and I have fashioned. (That’s what we designed it for, after all!) I choose that avenue.
GATEWAY 1: ACCEPTANCE
I’m sad, disappointed, and angry. Four Gateways of Wisdom beckon. I approach the first: Acceptance. Big breath! I accept the fact that I am where I am. There is no way out. My lesson is that this is the life I now have. I live in Vancouver, far from my comfortable, established support networks. People in Vancouver are busy with their lives and getting bored with my slow “progress” in healing from grief.
Approaching and passing through this Gateway of Acceptance is not as easy as I imagine. I stand there and think deeply. I believe that I now do accept my harsh new reality. I am not in denial, and my continuing bonds with Karl are abstract, not concrete. I know that Karl is dead. Our life together is no more. I am alone. I have been pretty sick recently. Now I have good medical care, I am slowly recovering. I am living my new, solo life in Vancouver — far from Australia, my home for 49 years. I have accepted and adjusted to my new reality. It’s tricky and not always easy, but I accept it.
In my imaginary checklist, I give Acceptance a check.
GATEWAY 2: GRATITUDE
Now I imagine myself approaching the Gratitude Gateway. This territory feels familiar (and even comfortable). I bless all that arises in my circumstances. I sense that my current lesson about the birthday party is something like this: even in a loss, there is much to be grateful for. I cherish the life I had with Karl. I bless the many miracles I have experienced since he died. I enumerate the many blessings I continue to enjoy. My cell phone communicates a dozen birthday messages. Birthday cards occupy all available spaces in my suite.
Overseas friends send flowers. I even receive a brief text from an estranged family member. I have much to be thankful for. Despite my birthday blues, I can express Gratitude. I can pass through that Gateway and spend some time in its territory. Counting my blessings.
GATEWAY 3: FORGIVENESS
At this Gateway, my challenge about my birthday might be this: I forgive myself and others and accept our apologies. My sense of my current lesson is this: A peaceful heart forgives and accepts forgiveness. I feel tense, hesitant, and much less confident as I approach the Forgiveness Gateway. It’s rocky terrain here, and my gait is unsteady. I might easily lose my balance. It was such a milestone birthday. It meant so much to me. I feel so hurt and rejected. A few words of text from an estranged loved one after nearly two years of complete silence?
Oh, dear… I struggle to be thankful for that. Is that enough? I yearn for more, for family, for connectedness, for the deep connection I had with my sweet Beloved.
I agree with C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed (1964), that “the death of a beloved is an amputation.”
In my unforgiving state, I enumerate the failings of those who have not stepped up (in my terms) to help me recently or to celebrate my milestone birthday (on my terms). My chest is tight, my breathing is shallow. I need to pause at the Forgiveness Gateway a little longer. And I need to breathe. And then, after passing through, I need to devote more time to dwelling in that realm. Forgiveness is different from gratitude. As I am feeling profoundly rejected, disappointed, and resentful, I need to develop my forgiveness muscles a bit more.
These are familiar challenges — ones I experienced before Karl died.
I have more forgiveness work to do.
I must address this forgiveness issue right now. I do not want to grow into a disappointed old woman for whom nothing is ever enough. I am sure that those people have good reasons for not meeting my demanding standards for my birthday celebrations.