The gold of grief.

10 10 2011

I recently got to watch a good friend, a supportive, wise and wonderful friend, move on. There was no argument, fight, betrayal or blame to be laid, just a pure parting of ways.  I was given (and I am still receiving) the privilege of experiencing the grief that comes from knowing that without a doubt, I will never again have this very relationship.

It doesn’t usually happen this way, when friends part there is most often a big bang type of event that propels the pair out of the gravitational pull of friendship and because of which they either abruptly or gradually float away to form other connections. However, in the rare occurrence when a close relationship ends while the bond is still strong, while the mutual love and respect still exists, when events just force an ending, there is an opportunity at, as James Hilman calls it “Soul Making”.  The “Soul Making” happens because it takes a monumental effort to hold the beauty of that connection until the moment when it no longer is. As humans, we have a strong urge to turn away from the utter surrender that grief pushes us towards, because it really hurts and there is nothing to stop it. My friend once told me that in any relationship there are three persons participating, you, your friend and a third. This third, “other” is created by the connection between you. Equal parts you and them. You and your friend grieve over the apparent “death” of the third.

For me, in this particular case, I knew that the ending was coming and had even done some preparatory work to steel myself for the pain and loss that I was sure to come. I took pains to coach myself that I must honor this ending, as deeply as I honor the relationship itself. I told myself to be aware of letting anger creep in to cover over the pain. But, like living in earthquake country, there really is nothing you can do to truly be prepared when it comes.

So on this particular morning, as I walked trying to get my groove on, I started noticing a particular edge on my thoughts. A little shard, that was removing the softness out of my voice, and making my gratitude feel hollow. I struggled trying to find the cause of this disturbance for the whole of my morning. Later, as I sat to look over my schedule, I realized that this week I would see my friend for the last time. I hadn’t actually forgotten the meeting, I just kept myself from really seeing it until then. So in true human fashion, I immediately tried to think of how to prolong the meeting or skip it altogether. But there was no prolonging or avoiding the certainty of this ending, and as the cold reality of seeing my friend only this one more time crept over me, I grieved, like I haven’t in a long time. Nothing hollows one out like an unavoidable loss.

My friend, once told me about a quote by John Keats, “Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason-“ Being at the end of a close relationship is an exercise in Negative Capability. It’s like a game of hot potato with your heart. If you can hold this grief, if you can live in the fire long enough for it to give it’s gold, you become incalculably rich. The pain is the price for getting to always hold dear, a relationship that is priceless. The pain is an indicator of just how much value both of us placed on our connection.

Because I choose to honor the grief, I get to truly miss my friend. The grief will evaporate soon and I will forget my friend’s face, wisdom and laughter. But I will always have the part of me, my half of the third, that has forever been transformed by the connection, and the knowledge that a part of my friend will touch everyone I connect with in the future.

I loved my friend

He went away from me.

There is nothing more to say,

the poem ends as soft as it began

I loved my friend.

Langston Hughes


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