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The perfect past. What I had in the past. It was perfect.

Well, not perfect, but really good. Surprising. Magical. And often challenging as I tried to keep up with Evelyn’s compassion for every living creature. Whatever it was, and everything that it was, ended with her death and now exists in the past.

Today I’m wondering if the love we have for a spouse is equal to the grief we feel when they die. Osho says that sadness gives our lives depth, and that the deeper we experience grief, the more happiness we will have, like the branches of a tree symmetrically balancing the extensiveness of its roots. He might also be saying that because of grief, we appreciate more the good things that come to us on their own, and balance is restored. The roots of grief also keep us grounded when we are tempted to think that life is supposed to be completely happy.

Osho’s image is important for those who grieve, up to a point, because to fight back to this place of balance from unending despair is such a relief. It tells us that although our grief is great, so will be our happiness. At a time when we can’t imagine ever being happy again, this gives us assurance that we will.

It’s a nice equation, but I’m tired of living proportionally. I want to be all in with life. I don’t want to be balanced. I want more happiness than grief, at least 60/40, so that I have a fair chance each day to enjoy life. I don’t want to be limited on the happy side of the equation because I haven’t suffered enough.

F**k the tree! Okay? Grief broke me, and in being broken I learned how critical it is for those who grieve to have people around who are willing to listen and help as they can.

I need to take risks, and I want to get angry when people who are grieving are being neglected, ostracized, and abused. I want to laugh at inappropriate times if I feel like laughing, and dance when I feel like dancing.

I am going to survive grief not because I am balanced, or because I have hidden strengths that grief has brought out, but because I’m stubborn. If death is going to hit me, them I’m going to hit death back, and hard.

Grief broke the dam on my emotional river that held back and doled out my caring of others through society’s irrigation pipes. Now that the dam is gone, my love flows free to everyone who has a need, even though I don’t always know what to do, I’m awkward, and I often feel overwhelmed. But I don’t want to stuff my emotions back inside the coffee can. That way of living is predictable and boring.

This caring for others that I’m talking about (you can also call it love, compassion, or kindness), isn’t a matter of give and take. I don’t scratch your back so that you will scratch mine. This compassion is not an emotion that ebbs and flows. This love is intentional. If I show you kindness and you happen to return kindness to me, all the better. But I help you simply because you have a need. My grief has shown me how much we need the help of others, including strangers who show up at the door.

Don’t get me wrong about trees. I adore them — oaks and pines, hickories and maples — just not as similes. Trees are glorious creatures standing with an architecture and presence all their own. We don’t need to reduce them into abstract concepts. But if we want to go the simile route, let me toss in this fact: There are massive trees that have shallow root systems, like my beloved giant sequoias in Yosemite. They will blow over in strong winds unless they connect their root systems with nearby trees. Then they support each other. You know, like in a community.

Do I love others as deeply as I grieve? I hope at least this much.

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Mark Liebenow's writings on grief have been published or are forthcoming in journals like The Manifest-Station, Modern Loss, Refuge in Grief, Open to Hope, The Citron Review, River Teeth, Chautauqua, and Under the Sun. His account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with his wife's death, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. His essays have been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and named a notable essay by Best American Essays 2012. His grief website is Widowersgrief.blogspot.com. Twitter @MarkLiebenow2. Contact Mark at muirman1@sbcglobal.net.

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