Three years ago I was watching my 12-year-old son play baseball in Hamlin Park in Chicago. My memory is that it was a bright sunny Saturday afternoon in early June. My two daughters (then 9 and 15) were sitting on a blanket eating various snacks and paying a bit more attention to their electronic devices than the game, my wife was nearby watching and talking to other baseball moms- our small dog danced around the girls hoping for a stray snack. It was perfect day for a dad: sunglasses, shorts, the sounds of little league baseball, the smell of burgers on the grill cooking in the distance, and my family- being together. I stood watching the game in my usual posture against the tall fence protecting the game watchers from delinquent baseballs. Suddenly there was a crack of the bat and a line drive headed to 3rd base where my son stood on defense. The ball snapped the ground twice before it landed in his mitt and he threw the ball hard to first base. “Out!” yelled the ump. I cheered like a mad-man, a typical baseball dad, pitiful, but true. I was simply delighted to my core. I stood there reveling in this moment and savored the delight I was experiencing. Looking back, it wasn’t just that my son had made a good play that created such delight (although that was part of it), but the whole thing- the meaning and innocence of simple family life with people who I cherished more than I could have ever imagined. What I didn’t expect was that at that very moment something snapped inside of me. It was as though someone had flipped a switch. I think I heard it happen. .. ‘click’. I realized in that instant that moments like this would someday change and ultimately be gone. My son would soon age out of little league, my oldest daughter would leave to go to college in 3 short years, and my elementary school daughter would then be a full-fledged teenager. The sweetness of that moment was somehow met equally with the reality that I would someday lose all of this. "This too shall pass," I thought.
Now you’ve probably never witnessed a baseball dad crying at his son’s game. I have personally witnessed a few of us make complete fools of ourselves in many other ways. If you’ve ever been to a little league game you will likely be able to attest to this ugly little reality. But cry I did- and from that point on I have lived with the deep nagging experience of the temporary nature of things and the inevitable changes and losses to come. It’s one thing to know this to be true and quite another to know it. The kind of knowing that comes with that internal “click”. That one changes you. The switch has been flipped, the temperature drops, the light goes out. You now live in a different reality. That kind of knowing is soul level grief I think. It’s something that will not be denied, numbed, smoothed over, run away from, repressed, dissociated, or medicated – at least not permanently- because most of us try our level best to do those with our grief. Grief will always find its way back to our awareness, I think because it is a core and universal human experience and more so- because it is alive- when present, it is literally the state of our soul.
I was having lunch with a good friend recently and he was recounting the many losses he is experiencing in his life lately. With tears he let the grief speak- it was painful to be with him in that moment- but I can tell you truthfully that it was really a good time. No one was blowing sunshine, we just sat there in it together. When we speak of our grief to another –we give it voice- when we are heard and understood in it by another- we find our voice. When the other person resonates with our grief we find the company of another who suffers as well. We find we are not alone.
Counselors are no different from other people; we are fellow people who suffer losses. But what many of us have learned through our work is that grief is an experience that, when welcomed, is something that heals us- it’s actually our friend. Through sitting with so many experiencing profound experiences of grief and loss, I have learned to trust soul level grief to take a person right where they need to go. I need not fear it- nor should you.
Grief washes, reorients, gives wisdom, compassion, and centeredness. Grief, when shared, joins us to our fellow journeyers and gives the other ‘permission’ to be more authentically grounded in their own experience. So, I am grateful for the ‘click’ and the resulting awareness of loss on that bright summer day 3 years ago. I am grateful that my soul loves enough to feel that loss is profoundly painful, because it is -and it should be. I am grateful for those who have and will listen to me about it. I am grateful for your willingness to read my story. As my daughter heads to college this fall – I figure I will hear the ‘click’ and be a mess- and that is just fine by me- I don’t plan on being alone with it.