The Colors of Grief

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I love how the light falls from this particular angle, the sun shining directly on me through the trees, the shadows cast long, illuminating the developing forest floor as winter takes a back seat and spring rapidly pushes forward. The seasons each are a few weeks longer and shorter in the Colorado High Country. Mother Nature wakes up a little later around here, stretching her long arms as she yawns and new life begins. Abundance overwhelming as creatures skitter, birds construct homes, young deer wander not terribly keen to the need for fear. The fire from yesterday’s eve is blackened char, memories of silly jokes and Sponge Bob’s Campfire Song Song.

Sitting in my favorite chair, coffee, pen and notebook in hand, I am invited to rest in the goodness, the gifts. I am invited to set down my agenda, my need, my proving, to just be, to enjoy, to soak. So much is going on all around, and in. So much to figure out, so much to manage, so much to attempt to control. The kids, this final week of school, finishing strong. Now over, the summer uncovering itself before us.

My heart and head move through situations, hopeless situations that seem to offer no positive outcomes. I think of the child, now rendered motherless, just one year shy of the age I was when I found myself in the same space. Scared, confused, unbelieving. Uncertainty now in the driver’s seat, nothing sure or determined easily. The loss of innocence. I recall these last thirty years I have walked this road, recognizing the incredible and remarkable care I was given, the people, the love…offered, available. This child. Thirty years. Broken hearts. How do we manage just one more moment, let alone a day? This precious girl. Mind, heart, body plunged into uninvited suffering.

Yet, the world keeps miraculously spinning on its axis, the sun shines after long days of rain and joint-stunting cold. The seasons happen, the leaves come, the trees continue their arching up and out. Flowers bloom, tiny seeds become food, birds make homes, eggs are laid, babies hatched. Life goes on its merry way without much care for the suffering, sorrow, grief that may envelope us in the most inopportune of moments. Cruelty at it’s finest, Life doesn’t halt, doesn’t even really stop to take a breath; marches onward to the rhythm of laughter, parties, graduations, birthdays, new life, seasons, promotions. All of it still happens.

While in Barcelona I visited the Picasso Museum. Guided by an English speaking headset, I  meandered leisurely through each hall. While observing his early works – sketches, instructional exercises, contest winning scenes – I took notice of a particular portrait he painted of his friend Carlos Casagemas. The haunting use of color and contrast had me mesmerized. The countenance young, yet worn…almost like he knew too much. The broad shoulders wore a large coat, with thin, elongated face and unfocused gaze.  The recording explained that Carlos was Pablo’s close friend for just two years. I took note of their abbreviated relationship, the image staying with me as I continued.

I came to the collection of works from his Blue Period (1901-1904). A tangible display of dejection and death, all painted in blues. I wondered and confirmed this was Picasso’s response to the suicidal death of his friend, Carlos. He allowed the grief to color him, to determine him, to define him. Everything he did was in relation to Carlos’s death. The subjects of his paintings were sick, broken, dead, hungry, filthy. Maybe this is all that felt real, no longer was there room for fake, trite, patronizing. Nor was there probably room for laughter, merriment, or cheer.

Doesn’t suffering do this work? When we suffer it burns away the excess, the superfluous. No longer do we have the energy or desire to pretend.  When the earth shakes, when we are pummeled by unexpected waves of pain, tumbling us headlong deeper, wondering if oxygen and light will once again be ours. Nothing else works, just blue, just sad, just questions. Our sorrow, our trembling deserves a name, it deserves to be counted and defined, to be contended with, experienced. There is no proper way to manage this. There is no time frame or rule book. There are no definitions, for this would be a great disservice. We don’t get to predict the end, there are not clearly defined borders for grief. One day, one moment there is respite, a glimmer.

Following the Blue Period, the Rose Period (1904-1906) is the picture of Picasso’s hope. Works infused with joy and refreshing color. The hues, however, still seem muted, tenuous, maybe disbelieving. Sometimes hope doesn’t seem real, or deserved…too good to be true. Hope dwells in tandem with suffering. Sometimes she just hangs out, on the edge of periphery, almost undetectable. She dwells in limitless forms – the unfolding of a new season, sunlight, rain, conversation, medication, mercy…

As I am given the gift of witnessing the unfolding of this new spring, again, I know we all get to experience new birth after desolate and desperate winters. Redemption. God’s time is our healer, grace is the driver, and self-compassion is the key. There is great power in the recognition of our work, the suffering.

I wonder if Picasso, in the remainder of his days painted any more blue. I bet he did, but maybe there were other colors too.

4 thoughts on “The Colors of Grief

  1. This is excellent Jen…thank you for writing these wonderful words…God’s time is our healer indeed! Self-compassion is a work in progress for me for sure. Hugs your way, Julie

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  2. As always, Jen, beautifully written. You nailed it for me with this line:

    “Doesn’t suffering do this work? When we suffer it burns away the excess, the superfluous. No longer do we have the energy or desire to pretend.”

    Here are some of my random thoughts on suffering:

    I would add that suffering burns away the excess and the superfluous more efficiently in those who have become willing to recognize and accept their frailties and limitations.

    Those who suffer, but who embrace a spiritual solution, discover firsthand that when we let go in faith of something that no longer serves us well, the Hand and Heart of God are there to lead us to deeper trust, wiser perspectives, and a keener sense of love for others and self.

    Not all who suffer are willing to stop suffering or are able to learn from its bittersweet experience. Some us prefer to numb and cope, rather than be healed, by the acquisition of possessions, by taking “hostages” to share in our pain, or even by becoming addicted to helping others.

    One of the unwanted lessons that suffering can teach us is that we are not God, even though we were likely unaware of the fact that we were trying to play God. We know that God knows more and better than we, but we still don’t like it.

    In times of trouble or pain (real or imagined) we doubt and curse God for not taking better care of us when, in fact, God has us right where God wants us: Letting go of self-reliance and embracing God Dependence.

    Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”

    Keep writing, Jen. You’re good.

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