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Grief is a Solitary Experience

Written from our farmhouse in Iowa April 2, 2020.

Last Saturday was meant to be my father’s memorial service in California. We canceled it… maybe postponed. It was an opportunity for closure as well as a gathering of loved ones. We were going to have a large choir of anyone who sang in one of Wayne’s choirs through the decades of his ministry. I was slated to lead the music and had been preparing all the way through the vigil, discussing everything with Dad. Most importantly, I would have all my Stacks niblings in one place, which was the most decadent thing this Uncle JoJo could imagine. Alas, it didn’t happen.

On Saturday, I was at the Quaker meetinghouse where I worship with Friends in West Branch. We were recording a service to send out to folks in the quarantine time. I stayed around and recorded a 20-minute memorial to my dad. Alone. Just me in a church with a piano. It was lovely. You can listen to it here. I went home that night, edited the piece then posted it. I sent it out to special friends either who had held me in that time or who have helped shape my voice. Because I found my voice to be strong, beautiful, and loving. In fact, I went to sleep that night listening to it on loop.

Now, there was a time I couldn’t stand the sound of my own voice - too screechy, pitchy, gay, fast, boring, annoying. Please, when I finally stopped and stood in the mirror to face myself, I heard the things I was saying to myself. The nastiest, meanest things I would never let anyone say to anyone else. No wonder I didn’t like the sound of my voice. So, I focused on love then grace then embrace. Now, I love the sound of my voice. That is a sign of alignment and harmony. I am grateful to have found this place.

Which brings me to the solitary nature of grief. Last week I posted a video singing “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green” from the Sesame Street Songbook I will be using to share life lessons as we reenter the public square. I talked about how difficult it is to be stuck with just ourselves if we are pining to be something or someone else - if we can’t embrace who we are - if we can’t stand the sound of our own voice. In this time of grieving the loss of access to people and activities and events and gatherings, we hear our voice and see ourselves way more than we do others. If we have not found peace, we are tormented or at least annoyed to no end by the person we are around the most right now.

While I was sitting vigil at my father’s death bed for 2.5 weeks, I came to realize that while other people may be going through what we are going through, our experience is completely different than anyone else’s. We may share the loss of someone with another person, but their experience of the loss is their own and not ours. This can be frightening. If we can find peace with ourselves, it can become invigorating. It can deepen our understanding of self, others, the world, and the divine. We can become more of who we are called to be.

This is a poem I wrote on my way to one of the hardest months of my life. It is accompanied with a story. I am playing with this format for finding the scrolls of the Gospel of the Unicorn. Consider this Scroll #111.

Dance. Sing. Laugh. Adventure.

See. Smell. Taste. Listen. Touch.

Roll around with abandon.

Stretch out with curiosity.

This is your journey.

No one else will be on it.

Others may join you

For periods short and long.

In the beginning as in the end,

You are alone

Surrounded but separated

With space between you.

Let that space be your secret.

There is one inside you.

A great sea with a solitary island

On that island is a temple.

In that temple is an altar.

This altar sits on the spot

Of your unique connection

To the creative force.

Let yourself burn with the flames

Of creative forces that shape worlds

Bring that warmth back to the spaces

Between you and others.

Be true, badass unicorn.

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