“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.
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
What do I know of how to forge a path forward as the world is once again swept away in the wave of war? What do I know of the significance of my life, a life, anyone’s life during these times?
One man’s dark dream can unleash such suffering onto the world that his name will live in infamy.
Another man’s courage can inspire millions and change the course of history. Both names are written forever in the scarred and sacred journey of humanity.
It is easy to see the influence of lives such as these on our planet.
But what of the rest of us?
Those of us who live quietly? Who will never be globally influential or famous?
What can we do in times such as these?
What is there for us to do?
What do I know of such things?
I know of the beauty of the butterfly on the wind.
I know its life is short and quiet. I know its life is essential to our world.
I know the spiritual teachers of the past and present speak of the imperativeness of our connection to Spirit.
Our own spirit and the Great Spirit, God, Allah, Gaia, whatever name one chooses.
As the past week has sent me into the depths of despair for the suffering that has been unleashed onto the Ukrainians, people I have never met, I sit in the embers of my hopelessness and try to hold tight to that which connects me to Spirit. I pray for mercy and beauty and humanity. I pray that those lost in the darkness of their own soul will find the string that connects them to love and the Divine. I pray that they hold tight to that string. And one by one, we can weave together a new path for humanity and all life on Earth. Then perhaps there will be no more war.
I leave you with this poem by Parker Palmer. Hold tight to your string.
This feeling of grief after a loss, I feel is a sacred time. I have vowed to let myself feel the depths of this pain. To sink down into the wisdom of this darkness. It is an ebb and flow of dark and light. And what we bring back into the world can be a healing balm, a calm acceptance, a way of walking gently on the Earth and loving this transitory life.
“No, it’s not emptiness that is felt now that you are gone from this world. What is felt is the fullness of your absence. A space laid bare, pregnant with the light of your humor,
I wrote the following journal entry in January of 2020 a few days after my dog Lola died, and a couple of months before the pandemic hit. I was struggling under the heaviness of new grief, trying to find a way to get through the days without crying. I would find myself numb, distracted, staring at nothing while at work. Nights were worse.
I never wanted to numb my grief. I wanted to sink into it. And I still do, when it emerges. Slowly the sharp pain I felt in my heart eased and came less often.
Perhaps that was the gift of Lola’s life: To tear my heart so wide open that the compassion and love that poured out carved a new trajectory for my life.
I have lost more loved ones, human and animal since then. My other dog, Dickens, among them. I try to meet these losses with a strength of Spirit that I did not feel before.
Sometimes I read this letter I wrote to Lola and it gives me comfort. I hope she can hear it where she is.
I cannot yet clean the patches of dirt off of the walls where you used to sleep or put your food bowl out into the garage. Your collar lies next to your ashes on the credenza. I wish I had known how much you meant to me when you were here. If only I could go back to that day when I saw you, an abandoned puppy awaiting adoption at the pet supply store. I would spend every day for the next 11 years making sure you knew how much I loved you, instead of being distracted by my ego-centric pursuits, all so trivial, now I know.
We had so much fun hiking in the mountains, or driving to the park, or swimming in the lake on the weekends, didn’t we? Do you remember that time you startled an elk? Or that time when you realized our home was going to be Dickens’ forever home, too? Or that first time I had to pick you up and put you into the back of the car because you could no longer jump? Do you remember? Can you still remember?
Or are you running in mountain meadows now, chasing elk and squirrels and butterflies? A green meadow with clean air and blue skies, where your labored last breaths are forgotten? But you still remember our walks and weekend treks and playing catch and how Dickens would always get the ball out of your snout, don’t you? You will remember us, won’t you? You will remember to greet Dickens when her time comes? And when I finally come? Won’t you, Lola?
It is said that with the loss of someone you love, there comes a feeling of emptiness. What I feel is not emptiness. What I feel is a presence, a fullness of your absence at home. I feel the fullness of the presence of your absence. It is heavy and it clings to me.
I know with time this fullness will diminish, and I will smile when I think of our days together, Lola. And on my last day, I will wait. As I hope you will be waiting somewhere, wherever it is that we go when our last, labored breaths are forgotten.
To live in this world of mundane chores; to live when the wash still needs washing, the plant still needs watering, the cat still needs to be fed. To live still, and my friend is gone away to whatever awaits us all.
You, who will live in our future, will never know her. Nor will you know anyone whom I know or even that we had existed. Not as individuals at least.
There is impermanence everywhere in this reality, whether a flower or a family member. It is omnipresent. It is life itself. There is something that the death of my friend, my favorite dog, my mother, and my neighbor’s oak tree has taught me. It is that to truly appreciate life on this Earth, we must also hold within ourselves its coming death.
We should love this Earth and everything on it with the passion and urgency of one who sees the end.
If we live in the embrace of knowing that someday at a time in which we have no clue or control, this tree, this friend, this fractal of divine light will extinguish, perhaps we would better understand the depth of the gift. I do not mean to intellectually understand that death is coming. Of course, in those moments when we allow our minds to stumble upon the thought, we comprehend that death is a real thing. But usually, the thought is banished from our minds, and we live as if the gifts on this Earth will never be depleted. However, something even deeper is missing in this mental void of ours. We are missing the miracle in the mundane.
Perhaps had we understood all of this, as the indigenous and our ancient ancestors had understood it, things would have turned out different for the natural world and for you, who must learn to live in the wake of our lives.
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.
Yesterday, I lost a beloved pet to cancer. Today, I walk in the dark world of grief. It is becoming a well-worn path. Yet, I know that it is necessary to be fully engaged with my feelings and to let them come to the surface in order for them to shift into something that will help me in this world. And something that will lead me back to a deeper love for another.
I know I am not alone in feeling grief in these times. So, I want to share with you a short excerpt from the book by Francis Weller, “The Wild Edge of Sorrow.” He is an elder of our times who understands and teaches about the sacredness of grief.
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.
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.
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.
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.