“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known …suffering…. and have found their way out of the depths. (They) have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.” ~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Though the author wrote this book of blessings during her husband’s illness and subsequent passing, grief can come to us in many forms. Grief over lost dreams, over parts of ourselves that are not loved, the loss of so much of the natural world, the loss of our or a loved one’s physical abilities. Aging. Loss of memory. Loss of a pet.
But if we can stay with our grief until we come through to the other side, what blessings may await?
When we begin to emerge back into the world after grief has struck, we become aware that we cannot emerge alone. A lifeline comes to us from a friend, family member, mother nature, poetry, community.
The time will come when we will tether ourselves to this lifeline and throw the other end out to someone else. So perhaps it is more than a lifeline. It is a web. One we share with all life and offer back to another someday. Weaving together ourselves with all that we love.
This is my reading of the poem, “Construction Site” from a poet found on Twitter @the_librarian1.
Please have a listen to the poet’s reading. It is absolutely beautiful.
If your heart is heavy, if you feel exhausted from it all, plant your fingers in the soil of our Mother Earth, breathe in her breath that gently touches your skin as it passes, and walk barefoot on her body.
Let our Mother heal you. And let us care for her in return. This exchange of nurturing is what she needs now, as do we.
I share this poem written by a late, great elder of our time, Thomas Berry.
By Thomas Berry
To be seen in her loveliness
to be tasted in her delicious fruits
to be listened to in her teaching
to be endured in the severity of her discipline
to be experienced as the maternal source whence we come
I realized that I had not posted much lately. I am in the homerun stretch of graduating from the apprenticeship program at The Guild for Spiritual Guidance, which has carried me through the last two years in community and love. After this Sunday, I will be a graduate and will dive deep into my writing and sharing with you here in this space. I very much look forward to posting more.
In the meantime, I came across this poem by Jan Richardson. I hope it brings you comfort.
Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House
I know how every time you return, you call out in greeting to the one who is not there; how you lift your voice not in habit but in honor of the absence so fierce it has become its own force.
I know how the hollow of the house echoes in your chest, how the emptiness you enter matches the ache you carry with you always.
I know there are days when the only thing more brave than leaving this house is coming back to it.
So on those days, may there be a door in the emptiness through which a welcome waits for you.
On those days, may you be surprised by the grace that gathers itself within this space.
On those days, may the delight that made a home here find its way to you again, not merely in memory but in hope,
so that every word ever spoken in kindness circles back to meet you;
so that you may hear what still sings to you within these walls;
so that you may know the love that dreams with you here when finally you give yourself to rest—
the love that rises with you, stubborn like the dawn that never fails to come.
I have rediscovered Haiku poetry, a Japanese form of short poetry. In the English language, Haiku is written according to the number of syllables: Three lines with 17 syllables. 5-7-5. Japanese does not have syllables. So, Haiku is written in what are durational sound units, sounds of equal duration. In English, syllables can be of differing duration.
I think I love Haiku so much for a couple of reasons. First, because of my analytical side. The counting of syllables and the effort it takes to fit a moment of life into 17 syllables is very satisfying to this woman whose favorite class in school (way back when) was math. Many poets of Haiku in English think of this 17-syllable rule as a suggestion, and my older self is just fine with coloring outside the lines.
Second, Haiku helps me to reel in my errant thoughts and focus them like a light beam onto one moment, one object, a simple thing. This is a type of meditation for me. It has helped me, especially during these uncertain times.
Noticing the smallest of things and being grateful for them, however fleeting, is what I attempt to hold in my hands as I walk through life now.
Here are a few Haiku poems focusing on grief and gratitude. I hope you find comfort in them.
A Japanese Poem Translated by Takashi Kodaira and Alfred H. Marks
A poem by Mary Oliver. This is an excerpt from that poem. I plan on uploading a video of the whole poem in the near future, but I find this section particularly meaningful at this time in my life.
To Begin With, The Sweet Grass
The witchery of living is my whole conversation with you, my darlings. All I can tell you is what I know.
Look, and look again. This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.
It’s more than bones. It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse. It’s more than the beating of the single heart. It’s praising. It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving. You have a life—just imagine that! You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe still another.
The weight of heartbreak and loss can envelop us in what feels like darkness so deep and wide, it is unimaginable to think of receiving love from another again. However, the most neglected and estranged person we encounter in our lives is oftentimes ourselves.
It is possible to love ourselves again, or for the first time. This poem by Derek Walcott tells us to discard the letters and preconceived images we have of ourselves that were borne out of disappointment and to love those parts of ourselves we have neglected. Fall in love with that stranger.
Too often, we only have indifference, neglect, or even contempt for ourselves. Yet it is self-compassion that opens our hard shells to new beginnings and out of the illusion of futility. It is imperative in these times that we show ourselves the compassion we wish others would show to the suffering. Who among us is not suffering at times and who among us is not worthy of compassion?
Prescription for the Disillusioned
by Rebecca del Rio
Come new to this day. Remove the rigid overcoat of experience, the notion of knowing, the beliefs that cloud your vision.
Leave behind the stories of your life. Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation. Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp of your useless fears.
Arrive curious, without the armor of certainty, the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined. Live the life that chooses you, new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.
A poem by Jan Richardson tells of the luminosity that can come from integrating one’s grief and letting it set fire to the fractured parts within. As caregivers to loved ones, nature, the world, we are burdened with an enormous responsibility that may feel like a suffocating weight. However, this weight can be used as alchemy to form diamonds.
How the Stars Get in Your Bones
by Jan Richardson
Sapphire, diamond, emerald, quartz: think of every hard thing that carries its own brilliance, shining with the luster that comes only from uncountable ages in the earth, in the dark, buried beneath unimaginable weight, bearing what seemed impossible, bearing it still.
And you, shouldering the grief you had thought so solid, so impermeable, the terrible anguish you carried as a burden now become— who can say what day it happened?— a beginning.
See how the sorrow in you slowly makes its own light, how it conjures its own fire.
See how radiant even your despair has become in the grace of that sun.
Did you think this would happen by holding the weight of the world, by giving in to the press of sadness and time?
I tell you, this blazing in you— it does not come by choosing the most difficult way, the most daunting; it does not come by the sheer force of your will. It comes from the helpless place in you that, despite all, cannot help but hope, the part of you that does not know how not to keep turning toward this world, to keep turning your face toward this sky, to keep turning your heart toward this unendurable earth, knowing your heart will break but turning it still.
I tell you, this is how the stars get in your bones.
This is how the brightness makes a home in you, as you open to the hope that burnishes every fractured thing it finds and sets it shimmering, a generous light that will not cease, no matter how deep the darkness grows, no matter how long the night becomes.
Still, still, still the secret of secrets keeps turning in you, becoming beautiful, becoming blessed, kindling the luminous way by which you will emerge, carrying your shattered heart like a constellation within you, singing to the day that will not fail to come.
Today I share with you this poem by Marie Howe, “What The Living Do.”
During those mundane days when I feel trapped in an ordinary life and perhaps feeling the losses more strongly, I find myself repeating the title of this poem. This is what the living do.
Life is a container for both our gratitude and grief. And it is grief that is felt most strongly in the repetition of tasks and the silence of the night. It is the way back to gratitude. And it is what the living do.
A short contemplation of nature and now for this Sunday morning. This is where I find divinity and strength, though hard at times it may be. I sit or take a walk outside if even for a few moments, and notice the smallest of creatures in flight or running across the path. And I remember, everything is divine, everything will pass out of this world. This world is so beautiful if I can just stop and breathe into it.
One or Two Things
1 Don’t bother me. I’ve just been born.
2 The butterfly’s loping flight carries it through the country of the leaves delicately, and well enough to get it where it wants to go, wherever that is, stopping here and there to fuzzle the damp throats of flowers and the black mud; up and down it swings, frenzied and aimless; and sometimes
for long delicious moments it is perfectly lazy, riding motionless in the breeze on the soft stalk of some ordinary flower.
3 The god of dirt came up to me many times and said so many wise and delectable things, I lay on the grass listening to his dog voice, crow voice, frog voice; now, he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever,
4 which has nevertheless always been, like a sharp iron hoof, at the center of my mind.
5 One or two things are all you need to travel over the blue pond, over the deep roughage of the trees and through the stiff flowers of lightning—some deep memory of pleasure, some cutting knowledge of pain.
6 But to lift the hoof! For that you need an idea.
7 For years and years I struggled just to love my life. And then the butterfly rose, weightless, in the wind. “Don’t love your life too much,” it said,
Over the past two years, I have experienced more loss than my entire life before this time. I know I am not the only one. It has been a dark night for our world, a darkness we must walk through in order to exit, hopefully, wiser and more compassionate. There is a quote I like that helps me remember that the darkness must be embraced and listened to for the alchemy to transform ourselves and our world. “The only way out is through. The only way through is in.”
However, this is only half of the alchemy. We have been taught in our culture that, after a short time, the only acceptable way to grieve is behind closed doors, alone. And it does not address the daily grief that those in caregiving roles shoulder almost daily. We have been taught to “get over it,” “move on,” “do not burden others.”
What we have forgotten in our culture is the other half of the grieving process, the way in which the transformation can happen for us as individuals and as a society. We in the “modern world” have lost the communal experience, the vessel in which we come together as a community and hear and hold each other through our grief.
This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke may speak to that reaching out. Whom is he asking for help? A divine presence? A loved one? His ancestors? His community?
I hope this poem gives you some solace and perhaps an answer for your own situation.
Pushing Through ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone; I am such a long way in I see no way through, and no space: everything is close to my face, and everything close to my face is stone.
I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in: then your great transforming will happen to me, and my great grief cry will happen to you.
This is another poem that I contemplate almost daily, The Art of Fugue VI by Jan Zwicky. Why is it that the patterns of our lives repeat themselves? What is it that we need to understand, hear, or learn? I listen more intently now to the quiet between the moments of my noisy life. Perhaps someday, I will hear what I need to hear.
The Art of Fugue, Part VI Jan Zwicky
Once again, the moment of impossible transition, the bow, its silent voice above the string. Let us say the story goes like this. Let us say you could start anywhere. Let us say you took your splintered being by the hand, and led it to the centre of a room: starlight through the floorboards of the soul. The patterns of your life repeat themselves until you listen. Forgive this. Say now what you have to say.
Recently, I have found much comfort in this 12th-Century poem, especially during this time when everything seems to be changing and out of our control. In order to truly feel the depth of appreciation for those people and beings we love, whether a parent, a pet or a flower, it is necessary to see that their end will come as well. Everything we love, we will lose. It is an unchanging law of this physical world. I try to walk the path of holding these two seeming opposites in my hands. Grief and gratitude. They are twins of the same mother, love.
Here is the 12th-Century poem in written and video form (click the picture above). The author is unknown.