by Nam Pham
Two months following my mother’s passing away, the grief was still raw and painful. I had these sudden waves of intense sadness that flooded my inner organs and brought me to tears – the kinds of tears I had to clench my teeth to hold back while being on the subway full of people.
My friend came to visit and stayed at my apartment for a night. I asked him to walk with me to the nearby park. It was the typical mini park that hides in surprising corners of Japanese streets. The kinds that would bloom with white-pinkish clouds of cherry blossoms when the season comes. That night was a spring night – The weather was cool and fresh. We walked in silence as I sometimes shared with him bits and pieces of how I was feeling about my mother’s passing away. I couldn’t remember what I said. The only thing I remembered was the magical moment that followed our immediate entrance to the park.
A gust of wind shook the few thin branches full of sakura and poured hundreds of tiny petals on us. This is magical. I took a deep inhale, imagining myself extending my arms out and embracing the wind. The sensation was soothing as if it was to say on something’s behalf, I am here.
It was one of the many moments I noticed my own grief journey has opened me to Mystery!
In the later years when I had the chance to study and work with the Centre for Holding Space, I came to appreciate the element of Mystery that supports us in our holding space practice.
Next to Mystery, we have Community as another element. In retrospection, both elements are nuance to kinship – the embodied sense of intimacy we can feel with the expression of Life around us, fellow human beings and non-human beings. Grief has shown me that I am inseparable from both Community and Mystery, and most importantly, I can thrive in this intimacy with both elements.
Here are the 3 perspectives I have been shown about Community and Mystery while holding space for my grief:
- Community is a far bigger concept than that of human beings:
I have this friend who tells stories of how she talks to sky, clouds, trees and insects like friends. She has a gift of reminding me of our bigger animal and tree and nature family. But before I could name these fellow souls as my community, they have already been lending enormous support for my healing journey.
I could recall the rainy late afternoon where I got off work and felt this intense flood of grief heavy in my heart. Instead of getting right back home, I lingered at that same mini park, inhaling the mushy smell of wet ground while looking up at the grey sky above – sweeping.
Ah…yes…no shame. Albeit I could hear this judgmental voice that was afraid of crying in public, the stillness of these non-human beings – rain drops, benches, trees, sky, clouds – held no judgement. I felt witnessed, respected and protected. Grief has shown me that the community that offers my place of belonging in the world has always been here all along.
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”
― Gary Snyder
- The Mystery of Grief is that it has its own kind of time and space:
The moment I learned of my mother’s death. In the midst of all the gut-wrenching cries, my intellectual mind searched for a way to at least make sense of “this feeling”. One sentence that stayed with me this whole time is that “grief has no timeline and it comes like waves”. It made great sense, and yet over time, I also sensed something else.
The great Mystery of grief invites us into a different experience of time and space. Time was broken into fragments of memories from different histories and space was squeezed into the tightness of the heart whenever I listened to “Remember me” from the animated film Coco. Time zoomed into space and space zoomed into time whenever a little feeling got triggered by a coming train of thoughts – It is going to crash…and there is no way I can escape this future past: where no matter what I could have done differently, the reality just happened.
This discombobulated state of time-space got me to become so intimate with memories. I wrote like crazy all the thoughts I saw coming my way, pouring them all down on countless pieces of paper and digital documents just so I could remember all those years of memories coming down to the lane of loss. Memories came pouring, but each memory has its frozen frame when everything became slow-motion. In seconds, I lived different times of my life intensely. That was the great, humbling Mystery of grief to let me learn about this “new” relationship I have with my mother.
Though I have to travel far
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
―Remember me (Lullaby) from Pixar’s Coco
- Grief is kinship with the familiarity of Community and the unfamiliarity of Mystery:
Grief is universal. One could instantly feel grief from someone’s stories before even making sense of it. In that primal way, grief taught me how to be a better companion for my fellow human beings in grief – a space holder.
Grief has taught me the sacred stillness from moments being in pain and witnessing myself wrestling with the unknown of liminal space. Grief has always reminded me to hold people spaciously with love and trust, and at the same time, nudged me courageously into “feeling with” them. It is this connecting gift of grief that it invites, and boldly asks for, us to come together in Community, the kind of familiarity that our hearts yearn for!
And yet, grief continues to teach me to marvel at the vast spectrum of individual experiences of it.
In a grief circle I hosted at a recent retreat, I had a profoundly humbling experience of hearing hidden stories from friends I have known for a few years. Grief has its own unique expression in each of these stories – some far from my own. The Mystery, thus the unfamiliarity of kinship, is that we could never fully see, or understand, a person until some more parts of them are revealed to us. That Mystery is another gifted part of kinship. We learn to be intimate with the unknown stories that might be whispered to our hearts at any given moment in time.
And what does that intimacy reveal?
.“She only nodded. “It’s all we are in the end. Our stories.”
― Richard Wagamese, Medicine Walk