How to accept such a communication with gratitude?
Wendy Dean, in Journaling a Pathway through Grief: A Family’s Journey after the Death of a Child, describes the task of grieving as “painstaking, agonizing, step by step trying to be in the world in a way that does not frighten people off with the anger, the longing, the despair.”
To complicate matters, unintended emotional intolerance often greets grieving people, especially if we do so openly. Miriam Greenspan (in The Wisdom in Dark Emotions) calls this kind of intolerance “emotion-phobia”. It is endemic in our culture and is often accompanied by a set of unquestioned beliefs about the “negativity” of painful feelings.
On the same topic, Petrea King remarked at a Quest for Life retreat I attended in 2016 that other people’s judgment can add to the horror of grief. People can judge us for doing “dumb” things and not allow us just to “be”.
As this emotion-phobia (and its accompanying emotional numbness) are so widespread, how can a fragile, traumatized, despairing person (me) feel gratitude after receiving an email about my “demanding performances of love”?
Here’s how I journeyed from despair to gratitude (with Karl as my guide and using our healing model), encountering and addressing the challenges of the Gratitude Gateway.
Amazingly, Heather’s first few emails (about her grant application and challenges in her professional life) open me up to my kindness for myself. Feeling kind and compassionate toward myself, I accept that I am experiencing a genuine emergency.
I know I am dying, and I genuinely care about my wellbeing.
My psychologist repeatedly emphasizes that I should not isolate myself, that it is healthy to “tell my story over and over” and not to feel guilty about taking people’s time and attention. He repeats that I should use my support team.
What I cannot explain to Heather is, while she is trying to understand and get to know the “new me”, that is precisely what I was trying to do.
On the other hand, some of my advisors tell me to try to talk to others about my “heroic journey” without exposing them to my pain. Clearly, I am not doing that well with Heather.
How can I possibly do that, in any case?
I turn to Karl.
my relationship with Heather mystified Karl
My relationship with Heather (which by this time has lasted forty years) always mystified Karl because she is dismissive of spiritual matters, and he saw me as pretty much obsessed with them. He saw my love for her as hero-worship. Karl did not believe in hero-worship. He felt my attitude toward Heather diminished my self-worth.
Remembering Karl’s advice and sensing his support, I read only the first two sentences and promptly close Heather’s email. I then forward it to Angela, my spiritual director. She and her husband, Jack, a mental health social worker, are closely monitoring my psychological state from Adelaide to determine whether they should ring a Brisbane hospital to have me admitted for acute PTS.
I ask Angela whether I should read Heather’s email.
Angela says no, at least not now. Heather’s language is sharp, bitter, and harsh, and her words would be like a weapon, a dagger to my heart.
I know I cannot handle any more daggers.
From my perspective, Karl’s death has destroyed almost everything in a flash. Now, my traumatized being witnesses a flash flood that destroys what little I have left. I have so much compassion for myself that I call out into the open air of the Internet for help to escape the unspeakable: what I see as my imminent death.
It is more than a cry for help. I am disclosing a profoundly personal experience. It is a confession: my broken-hearted admission that I have failed to achieve my ideal of “healing”.
I am dying of grief
Nearly a year after Karl’s death, I am dying of grief.
I am begging for help.
In seconds, my severe PTS attack demolishes everything I have built up in eleven months, leaving me desolate, hopeless, despairing, and pleading for connection.
The kindness of compassionate friends like Vanda, Angela, and Jack is like a lamp to my heart. They dare to see me, to hear me, and to accept the whole of me beneath all that is shattered.
Karl makes an astute observation at the time (and later), saying in April 2017, as I am about to move to Canada:
The email you sent in January pretty much freaked everyone out, especially the Vancouver crew, who were anxious that they would not be able to care for you.