In the years from 2018 through 2022, I dealt with a tremendous amount of grief. Among other losses, a some-time partner and long-time friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late 2020. I spent a year flying back and forth from Arizona to Florida during the worst of the pandemic to be of what help I could and to spend time with him. Strangely, I know I will remember it as one of the best times of my life, even though it was also the worst.
Yes, I took him to chemo and to hydration. Yes, I heard his cries of pain as he dealt with his bones cracking apart from the cancer growing inside of them. But I also took him to dinner at his favorite seafood place while he talked about how grateful he was for his community and how well he was cared for. I took him to the beach in Fort Pierce so he could be by the ocean, his most important need. When he was off chemo we ate pizza and garlic knots on a COVID-era pop-up patio and I remember feeling, not just seeing, the beauty of the gold fairy lights strung all over the tent above us. We held hands on the couch. We made Thanksgiving dinner and spoke of gratitude. We talked kink and ropes and sailing, all things that he loved. We talked relationships and afterlife, fear and longing, and God as we understood God (or didn’t).
In one of my darkest periods of this time, I heard a podcast featuring Francis Weller. He was speaking about what he calls the Five Gates of Grief. I bought his book, but could not read it at first. I was already steeped in so much loss it was all I could do to make it through each day, so I sought out his talks on YouTube instead and was riveted.*
I found Weller’s discussion of grief and how to live it was wondrously similar to how I teach about sex and eroticism. It is about embodiment. It is about reconnecting to nature and the natural world. It is about allowing the body to feel what it feels, to love what it loves, to hurt when it hurts, and to enjoy what it enjoys. Through this embodiment, we can find aliveness even in the midst of terrible loss. Death, it turns out, is about life.
Aliveness and eroticism are interchangeable words for me. Eroticism is about pleasure of the body. Aliveness is about embodiment. We can reach this through sexuality, through sensuality, and through the embodied processes of sadness, disappointment…even fear. Hello, fear. Hello, sadness. Hello, awe. Hello, love.
When Pat died, I felt loss, but I did not feel incomplete. I found I had lived that loss thoroughly, explored all of its corners, its horrors, its agonies and its precious, irreplaceable gifts. I did not want to lose him, my friend of 30-plus years, and yet I gained a knowledge, an experience, of living and of enjoyment that I can accurately describe as erotic. The pleasure was complete, a living thing all on its own. It needed nothing.
*For those interested, Francis Weller wrote The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief. Please note that Weller does men's work, and his language is often binary.