Before a person can move into the outwardly-directed, remobilized ‘Air’ stage of recovery from grief, there is still a great deal of ‘water-work, i.e., grief-work, to be done.
Images of oceanic water are most apt for describing the actual grieving process. When first emerging from shock (Phase l) and passing into grieving, (Phase 2: Suffering and Disorganization in Tatelbaum’s schema), the emotions and memories of the griever rapidly succeed one another in rising to the surface of the mind and then in plunging back down again, sometimes taking the griever with them in a flood of tears or a return of shock and disconnectedness. It is crucially important that this process be allowed to happen. Judy Tatelbaum writes,...
“When the shock wears off, as if emerging from trance, we begin to experience the full impact and pain of facing the finality of our loss. This is a time of the greatest suffering. It is natural now for us to weep a great deal. Tears are nature’s way of helping us to express and release our pain. We may ruminate over and be intensely preoccupied with the details of the lost one’s life or death, over our relationship with one another, over our memories, over our last encounter, over unfinished business together or (even) over why the loved one died. Our minds may seem to work intensel fast, covering all the details that relate to the deceased. One man told me after his son had died that at first he seemed to think of his son ‘eight hundred times a day’. Ruminating is simply part of the healing process. Yet as busy as our minds may be in one sense, in another sense we may feel blank, out in space, unable to focus or concentrate. Emotionally we feel acute suffering, even hysteria at times. Such intensity of feeling may be new to us. We may find such emotions as bitterness, anger, self-pity, and guilt especially hard to acknowledge. Throughout this middle phase of mourning, the myriad of feelings of grief come and go in waves, with lessening intensity as time goes on.”
Around the time that the Desert Meditation was written, I was experiencing many images in prayer of myself sitting at the edge of the ocean, and looking ‘dried up’. After a time, I began to feel the ocean lapping around me, bringing me immeasureable relief. For me, the double message of these images was that I had to allow myself to feel the feelings of my ‘delayed grief reaction’ (with water symbolizing emotions in this case), and I had to accept the possibility of future suffering as well as my present suffering (symbolized here by salt, which also has associations with purification by fire, as mentioned in the Fire section above). Salt is necessary to life: in the desert, without both Water and salt, one dehydrates and perishes. Tears are indeed the healthy response of persons experiencing this water and this salt within them.
In grieving, as in baptism, we must go down into the waters of death and grief; they must close over our heads, we must be inundated by our- emotions. When we rise from the waters again, we will be renewed, healed and cleansed of the bitterness and the intensities of grief’s pain and sorrow.
However, in the Desert Meditation, water is named as the single element most necessary to survival in the desert for another reason. The clear water which we shared as ritual drink represents the realm of dream and imagination, the attitude of receptivity needed for it, and the cool refreshing repose associated with it. But in modern times we have lost touch with and even repressed this realm entirely. Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz attempts to briefly defend it:
“Fantasy- is not just whimsical ego-nonsense but comes really from the depths; it constellates symbolic situations which give life a color and a glow which (a) too rational outlook destroys.”
A receptive state of mind is necessarv for dreams, creative visualizations and other manifestations of intuition and imagination. A receptive attitude of loving attention is necessary for prayer. Gaston Bachelard writes,
“To have that constancy of dreams which produces a poem, one needs something more than ‘real’ images before (one’s) eyes. The images born in us, that live in our dreams filled with a dense and rich oneiric matter - inexhaustible food for material imagination must be pursued.”
Thus Water is essential to the Desert Meditation: all its images were enabled to surface from my unconscious mind during prayer because of my new attitudes of pure receptivity-, and of openness to the realm of imagination and dream - At first I was quite resistant to this new attitude, and clung to my particular image of God with a naive and loyal faith. There was nothing wrong with this, of course, until I felt moved from within to grow beyond it in an experience not unlike that of confrontation between ego and Self described in Chapter l, above. There was a sense of death associated with the loss of my former God-image, but my new birth occurred when l realized that all my images of God were mediations of a mysterious, loving, intelligent reality, through symbols provided by the church or arising from my own unconscious. As I became more sophisticated about symbols, both theologically and psychologically, I became open to God’s speaking to me in any way God chose, and through any medium God chose, including my own imagination. Helen Luke, a Jungian psychologist, writes,
“For modern persons with a capacity for consciousness the old (forms of) unconscious nourishment (mediated by traditional religions, e.g., by ‘the symbolic life of the Catholic Church’) is not enough. If they are not to lose contact with the living water of faith, each one must find these things individually as well as collectively through real self-knowledge and attention to her own spontaneous imagely.”
Now I can see that my image of God - and with it my faith in God - have expanded, there is a new and mysterious vastness to them, that are not unlike the mystery and vastness of the ocean. “The beneficent chemical crucible of the sea is as living and creative in terms of the inner life of meaning, as it is in terms of its physical progeny.
There is also a threatening, chaotic character to the ocean, frightening to the person in grief who fears being overwhelmed by the contents of the unconscious. The Dictionary of Biblical Theology writes:
“Before the sea everyone has the feeling of a formidable power, impossible to tame, terrible when let loose, as threatening to the sailors as for the populations along its shores, whom it is likely to submerge at anytime. It is that sea, that cosmic ocean surrounding the continent, which the Mesopotamian mythology personified under the form of a monstrous beast. Under the name of Tiamat the dragon represented the chaotic and devastating powers which Marduk, the god of order, has reduced to impotence in order to organize the cosmos. (But) in the Bible, the sea is reduced to the rank of a simple creature, invited with all others to praise its Creator.”
Judy Tatelbaum describes the possible emotional chaos following a loss:
“Frequently during this mourning period we may feel irrational, mentally ill, or off--balance. We may say or imagine out-of-the-ordinary things and think we are going ‘crazy’. This is not mental illness but a natural part of grief. We may experience new emotions, intense mixtures of feelings that burst out unexpectedly. We may feel hysterical at times, even months after our loss. Racing thoughts, confusion, inability to ‘think straight’ or to concentrate, fear, and irrational thoughts about suicide, death, or reunion with the deceased all add to the pain and despair of mourning.
“Sometimes we have feelings or experiences that seem unreal. We may hear unusual sounds, like footsteps of the absent dead person. While grieving, we may have actual visions of the deceased reappearing. Some writers call these experiences ‘hallucinations’. That word is intimidating, implying something pathological, when in fact visions of the dead, like dreams, are fairly typical.”
Sharing the ‘water of dreams’, visions, emotions and imaginations in a support group or with family and friends will help to keep us grounded. Tatelbaum adds, “Dreaming may also be affected during the mourning period. Dreams are a major means of re-experiencing and working through emotionally charged experiences. Much grief work gets done in our sleep. Dreaming about the loved one is another way to begin to accept the death distressing as it is to awaken again to the realitv of loss. One client of mine said, ‘As painful as it is to dream about my dead child, it is wonderful to be able to be with him again, at least in my sleep.’ It was certainly reassuring to me to maintain some kind of contact with my brother through dreams, long after his death.”
Nevertheless, feelings of loneliness and yearning will persist. Tatelbaum writes,
“Loneliness and yearning are common in bereavement. Death leaves a hole in life that we feel very deeply. At first it is natural to think that no one - nothing -can ever fill that void. (But) loneliness, painful as it is, indicates that we are allowing ourselves to acknowledge the truth. In coming to terms with a death. we periodically suffer from loneliness, yearning, and feeling the painful gap in our lives. As we heal, these feelings lessen and eventually disappear.”
Tatelbaum does not forget that the presence or absence of ‘the water of faith’ makes a difference to recovering from grief:
“Our beliefs affect our mourning. lf we believe in a life after death, in heaven, or in rebirth, it often is easier to consider letting go of the deceased for now. Resolution may take longer, when we believe that the good-bye we must say is permanent.”
Many of Tatelbaum’s suggestions for ‘finishing’ and ‘letting go’ of the deceased person, or other lost ‘object’ include making creative use of the imagination and faith. She writes,
“Whatever our beliefs, we might try saying goodbye to the picture or memory of the deceased and imagine the loved one as floating upward into the vast universe, to help us give solid form to our good-bye. Acknowledging good-bye out loud can be particularly helpful.”
Lastly, Tatelbaum suggests that we can keep connected with our lost ones, but through love rather than through grieving. Love alwavs involves a kind of faith and imagination. Grief can come to an end; loving never will.