I lost my best friend to cancer recently. My best friend also just happened to be a dog. But the dog-part is incidental; she was a loving friend in every way that also applies to humans, and a few others that don’t. We both felt the constant need to make each other’s lives just a bit better than they had been the day before. My friend constantly gifted me with lessons I could have never learned from a friend of my own species; not those feel-good kind of lessons about unconditional love and such, but tangible lessons about how to live my life in the physical world. Yet, her most valuable gift could only be given from her death.
When my friend died, I fell into a deep state of grief; an emptiness and disorientation I had never felt before about any person, place, or thing. It was a profound sense of meaninglessness and despair, and it seemed that the world had somehow permanently changed for the worse. I desperately wanted that feeling to end; to once again see life as the playground it had been before. That was how I had always felt alongside my best friend.
In my own quest for personal development, I had encountered the concept of resistance to our experiences that results from being in a place of judgment. So much of our struggle with life is really a struggle with ourselves; our judgmental pronouncements that some experiences are “good” ones, and some are “bad”. The implication is always that the “bad” ones should be avoided and banished — barely acknowledged, if at all — and the “good” ones are to be thought of as the only ones worthy of acceptance.
The truth is that humans are nothing more than an experiential pile of shit; a constantly changing assortment of unexplainable sensations, unjustifiable impulses, and selfish whims. And, like so much trash-art, what gets created from it is something to be cherished, honored, and displayed. But, also like trash-art, that only happens when we allow the “trash” of our personal experience to be a welcome addition to the canvas of our lives.
In the midst of my grief, I knew that there must be one more gift for me even in her leaving; that’s just the kind of friend she was. But all I found was grief, and that didn’t feel like a gift. I knew the grief would only end when the memory of her did, and that is something I hoped would never happen. What then? Is this my life from now on; to be in a constant state of emptiness and despair? What if the answer was yes?
That’s when I received the one final gift my friend had for me.
So much of my own struggle and limitation has not been about the failure to find enough of the “good” feelings, but about my active avoidance and rejection of the less-good ones; which is precisely what I was attempting to do with my grief. What if, instead, my friend had left me with the lesson that a deep profound sense of loss that we all know of as grief was one of the most valuable gifts any of us will ever receive? What if….
The value is in how grief changes us: permanently, and beautifully. Art from trash. If you only look at the trash, and think the solution is to throw it out, you’ll never find the art that could result from giving it a prominent place among the works of beauty in your life. If you accept the grief as a new part of you — a permanent part, you will be forever changed in ways that move you closer to a joyful and fulfilled life; in ways that make you stronger, more whole, more able to love, and closer to a life of your true potential. More joy, more love, more fun, more dreams fulfilled; because you grieved. And only because you grieved.
These are not just flowery words to make you (and me) feel “better” for a moment. This is a call to perceive the despair over losing a life you love as something of equal value to falling in love in the first place. A deep and profound loss is a gift of something real and tangible; a better experience of life for those willing to fully embrace that loss.
You cannot manufacture grief, it is always and only a gift presented to you by another; another that you have allowed yourself to love, and they to love you. A better description of grief is an acknowledgement of something beautiful in your life. It is the choice to finally allow the appreciation of the joy something has brought to you life to flood in all at once. The more the joy, the greater the grief.
So, when grief is handed to you, don’t wish it away; welcome it enthusiastically. Make your hope that you will experience the deepest level of emptiness and despair you can possibly stand. That kind of grief is a great gift; the gift of a new and better you.
My friend will live on in my grief. that grief will not end, it will only become absorbed into who I am now. And, I never want that grief to end. Instead, I will thank her each and every day for the gift of it. My life will be richer and more rewarding not because the grief will end, but precisely because it won’t. That is the kind of friend she was.