Grief and Roses

I spent the past weekend participating in a three-day conference on grief and wellness offered by the Lumara Society (lumarasociety.org). There were keynote speeches, panels and over 50 workshops which included intelligent and inspiring perspectives on grief and loss. It was frequently noted by participants that love is the partner of grief, and there was an outpouring of love as people spoke of their grief, of whom and what they had loved and lost.

At the end of the conference, I found myself thinking about the broader grief that many of us are experiencing these days — a deep global grieving.

Loss is always with us — it’s a lifelong condition. Judith Viorst who we mostly know for her witty essays about marriage and parenting (and we mostly know best her children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) was also a psychoanalyst who wrote a very thick book called “Necessary Losses” about all the losses we must experience through life — loss of childhood, loss of dreams, loss of friends, loss of family, and she claims that losing is the price we pay for living — and loving — and that it is also the source of much of our growth and gain.

That may be true of predictable and necessary losses. But these days we’re grieving over the plight of our planet, the irreparable damage to the environment, the loss of hundreds of species, the loss of old growth forests, the devastation of fires and floods. We feel grief about Covid and the intransigence of the anti-vaxxers, the confrontations between the RCMP and the protesters at the Fairy Creek and Wet’suwet’sen blockades. We mourn the disappearance of civil society, the widening inequities and increasing racism and violence.

These losses do not seem to be necessary ones. Surely, they could have been avoided, could still be lessened. Grief therapists write about how much more difficult it is for people to accept preventable losses as opposed to predictable ones.

So what can do? Well, of course, we have to keep doing whatever we can, even if people like Jonathan Franzen write persuasively about “The End of the End of the Earth.” I believe there is still hope for us and we can learn to do things differently. I was heartened by an interview with Shannon Hayes, author of “Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles & Smart Living” in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. Hayes talks about “a great reset” which could result in sustainable economic renewal. Her priorities are ecological sustainability, social justice, family and community, and she defines wealth as being able to go out for coffee in the woods every morning and have Sunday dinners with family.

Those of us who are lucky enough to live in reasonable comfort have the opportunity to look closely at our priorities and values and to try to live accordingly and with gratitude. Right now I’m looking at the roses friends gave me for my birthday and I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful new book “Orwell’s Roses,” another birthday present. I hadn’t known that Orwell combined his work as a prolific novelist essayist and socialist with a deep love of gardening, especially of roses. In 1940, he wrote, “Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening.”

If we’re to pursue “a great reset” in order to lessen our grief and repair our losses, maybe we need to find balance in our activities to remind us of our priorities. Earlier tonight I went down to the park to watch the overflowing river rushing by, swiftly and noisily.

And now I’m settling down for a few hours of books and roses. It helps.

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