“There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk
Grief takes a nonlinear path. It can shut us down and send us to hide in isolation. It can disappear and then hit like a storm that opens the heart to sorrow and eventually gratitude. At least three things are true: intense feelings will surge and recede, self-care and patience will help, and making sense of all of this will often not come until much later. Many of the people we meet in our day are experiencing some sort of grief or loss, whether of a loved one or a relationship or life role that has dramatically changed.
I recently came across this 10-minute guided meditation for grief and loss led by Joan Halifax from Krista Tippett’s onbeing.org radio show. It is a good reminder that acceptance and self-forgiveness are an integral part of healing any difficult emotion or experience. I recommend the meditation for anyone who is grieving a loss, especially caregivers, who often wrestle with the pain of not always being able to meet the needs of their loved one.
The poet and philosopher John O’Donohue also speaks to this pain in his poem, For Grief. He talks of the “regret for all that was left unsaid or undone,” which is familiar to most who have lost someone they cared about. This is part of the wholeness that grief can lead us back to, that we are all connected by the shared experiences of grief and sorrow. Our journeys are both uniquely individual and connected. This poem (see below) describes the experience of grief and loss so well.
For Grief by John O’Donohue
When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.
There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.
Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.