on the liturgy of life ( but not death)

It bothered me. The lack of concrete information about grief, the way every book cover on the topic showed yellow wildflowers through soft filters and included words like “reflections” or “journey.” They looked like something I would find on a coffee table at an OB/GYN’s office.

How was this possible? “Grief is the most universal experience!” I told myself, my friends, my therapist. “Why is there no language around it? Why has no one turned the lights on?” I felt as though I was standing at the trailhead of the most ancient path of all time, the path of loss. But I had no idea what to do next. How could I possibly be this clueless? Where were the grooves? Where were the post marks? So many had gone before me, this path should be easy to navigate. The funeral is over, the casseroles have all been eaten, the dishes returned. Now what?

Also, how do I talk about this with my community? Most of my friends haven’t yet buried their mothers, but by now we have all experienced loss. Their hearts were not nearly as foreign to me as mine was to them. In their miscarriages, their buried fathers, their grandparents’ funerals, I see traces of my own shock and grief. So how do we connect again in a way we both understand?

Where are the words that unite all of our experiences into an amalgamation we all recognize? Loss is the most universal experience of life, more common than degrees, childbirth, or even marriage. In time, we either bury those we love, or they bury us. This isn’t uncharted territory. In fact, it may be the most familiar territory in all of the human experience. So why did it feel so unfamiliar? Why did I feel so alone? Why couldn’t I find the trail?

I was looking for the liturgy of grief.

My soul loves order. It’s not because I’m a Type A personality. A glance into my coat closet could assure you that is far from the truth. I don’t need precision, and I don’t mind a few crumbs on the carpet. But I desperately need rhythms in my life. Routines are the paths I walk no matter how I feel, no matter what day it is. For me, walking through Church liturgy is my faith. It is the way I show up, the way I offer worship and love and devotion. It’s my declaration. “Even so, I believe.” I’m declaring my commitment to remind myself, mostly, but I’m also declaring it to God and to my community. This is who I am, no matter how I feel or what has happened. And, as a result, here is what you can expect from me.

In the same way, my daily routines are the liturgy of my life. They are the way I show up in relationships, the way I declare my love and devotion to the people and ideas most important to me. The rhythms of putting food on the table, of opening my computer, checking in with my boss, sitting in carpool line, washing dishes after dinner, “put your shoes away and take the timer to brush your teeth,” kisses and hugs before bed … the rhythms of life are the stuff of my relationships. They are the paths I walk to and from the people I love the most. The way I show my love and devotion to them. I can be exhausted or energetic, affectionate or bored, but I still walk through them. Through my routines I show up. I’m present for my life. And in the act of showing up, I’m actively creating life. I’m actively loving, actively mothering, actively working. It’s the doing that creates relationship. Without that liturgy, that routine, that doing how would any of us live or know we are loved?

So why isn’t there a liturgy for grief? A road map that tells me how to live out the process of actively honoring the person who is gone, of actively healing, and actively stepping into my new life, a life apart from the one who is gone? Shortly after Eve gave birth she also lost Abel. I have entered the most ancient path of all time. So where are the grooves of this well-worn path? Where is the rhythm of loss?

You have to create your own, my therapist said.

That’s really stupid, I replied.

Maybe. But you still have to do it.

Since books were letting me down, and my therapist had a dumb idea, I googled blogs. I found touching stories. Astounding stories, stories that took my breath away. I pored over Modern Loss. I signed up for newsletters and e-books, I reached out to authors.

In all of these resources, I only found personal reflection. Also, authors write books on grief while they are grieving. Once they heal, they don’t want to talk about it anymore. I would send emails that said, “Tell me where the path is.” In response, I heard, “Good luck! Thanks for reading!” I rolled my eyes.

I guess my therapist was right. I was going to have to create my own.

So I booked a ticket home.