Alchemists have an active imagination. Webster may define alchemy as the power to transform something in a mysterious way, but I think grief really tests that description. In medieval times, alchemy embodied the transformative art of turning lead into gold. Those who practiced it, considered it a metaphor for the inner process of changing consciousness. Sounds complicated, right? Actually, alchemy is a perfect description of grief.
Some say grief is about being strong but anyone who’s been there might have a little something to say about that. When loss breaks you completely open, it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other let alone flex your emotional muscles. If our minds are working at all, we worry that if we surrender fully into the grief spiral, we’ll hurtle, like good old Alice in Wonderland, into darkness we might never return from. But we’d be wrong. It’s hard to imagine that all the tears, anger and exhaustion won’t drown us. Instead, they do what they were meant to do — help to heal us.
Our bodies are pretty great life guides. They know when to rest and when to cry, even when our minds are complete mush. Tears, even the ugly cry kind, are a cleansing release, a vehicle for healing. I didn’t say ‘cure’, by the way. Grief doesn’t come with that. But thank goodness, our body has built-in release triggers that trip the healing process we need to open the door to whatever is next.
“We live on; we don’t move on”.
There’s no shortcut through grief. Bummer. We move through the process in our own time and pace. Luckily, along the way, we might uncover our heart’s true capacity to feel and to love.
There’s no ‘normal’ in grief. You move when you move. Period.
The alchemy of transformation can get stuck in neutral — and might stay there for some time. Yet, tragedy is a transformative power. Painful todays seem endless, but they usually come with a flashlight on tomorrow. Tremendous grief can’t happen without tremendous love. As big a hole as it leaves in our heart and life when it leaves, those we miss so much left us a legacy of love, the most precious, beautiful yet, at times most painful gift.
If I was an alchemist, I’d have no desire to change lead into gold. (Where the heck do you get lead anyway?) My dresser boasts a jewelry box overflowing with 24 carat stuff but only one thing in there is precious to me — memories. Grief and loss incite a chemical journey where the treasure of ‘gold’ is a deeper, more enlightened and peaceful life. I’m not there yet but I’m workin’ on it.
“Darkness is not forever; eventually there will be stars.”
David Paul Fitzpatrick
Hearts can be shattered — again and again and again. We can choose to shut down or keep the faucets open; let go of the pain but not the person. Yes, hearts can break into a million pieces, but they can also be put together again. Sure they might be as crooked and patched as a kindergarten DIY project, but if we let the light in, healing will stitch the gaps.
I’m not gonna lie. Gaping holes will always remain and life will never be the same. Fresh wounds can feel as deep as the Grand Canyon but, like that natural wonder, the hole will actually become manageable (minus the tour busses, of course.) Like cardiac patients who’ve come through major heart surgery, you rehab from grief slowly, and sometimes painfully. The scar will remain forever but it doesn’t have to define us. Unless of course it reminds us that we, too, are survivors of heart surgery.
My granddaughter warned me not to watch JoJo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’ which she rated a definite 10 tissue movie. Did I listen? Nope. I did my Netflix thing and, as my grandgirl predicted, it was serial tissue special about love finding a disabled man. The bad news came when the woman who touched his heart realized death didn’t give a damn about their newfound love. Shocking. Yet, that unlucky young man expressed a thought that stayed with me. Understanding the depth of his sweetheart’s grief, he said “Just live well. I’ll be walking right beside you every day.”
I don’t know about ‘walking’ but I have to believe that man of mine was giving me a karmic shove this past Saturday, when I was in, what could have been a life-ending car accident. Barreling south toward me, in my northbound lane, a car hit me broadside. The fact that I swerved just seconds before made the difference between a direct frontal hit and living to tell the story. The crash happened merely yards from the restaurant my husband took all of us every single Mother’s Day. Coincidence? I think not.
If we had a choice, there would be none. Our loves would be right here, right now, for always. But, as we know well, life doesn’t come with a guarantee and it pretty much doesn’t care about our opinions. It happens, with and without us. It comes with happiness as well as chaos, with loss and change built right in. We can’t avoid life’s shitty parts; we can only learn to grow with them. After all, what choice do we have?
The mythical Phoenix may not be real (darn) but it’s as good an example of true alchemy as any. At some point or another we all will be dropped into fires, and it’s kind of reassuring that the ashes of grief can be transformed into wings.
That’s a kind of alchemy I can get behind.