Collected Words to Support the Grieving
"Life isn't long enough for love and art."
W. Somerset Maugham
I am drawn to the moon, my moods and temperament swell and ebb with its cycles. Its ripening, death, and rebirth effect me so strongly, perhaps, because I was born Pieces, a water sign. As a young man, I had a series of reoccurring dreams, and the moon played at least a small part in every one. In my favorite, I floated in darkness, and a soft and distant mixture of sounds became the introduction to Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. As the music swelled, I opened my eyes and looked down upon the earth, which seemed to glow in the blackness of space. A warm and gentle breeze seemed to waft up from the earth and I drifted with it, further and further from my home. As it grew smaller, I turned away and looked toward the moon, which now filled the sky. As if in water, I pulled myself through the darkness, toward the light.
Can anything happen to you for which you’re not ready? I look back now on certain things that at the time seemed to me to be real disasters, but the results turned out to be the structuring of a really great aspect of my life and career.
Joseph Campbell, from An Open Life
Please bless this earth,
and the precious life that lives upon it.
Dismantle the anger in our hearts.
Fill our spirit with love and reconnect us all,
that we might live as brothers and sisters...
for indeed we are.
May the Light of Peace surround us...
Rod Binnington, from http://www.spaceandmotion.com
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love."
We need spring. We need it desperately and, usually,
we need it before God is willing to give it to us.
Peter Gzowski, from Spring Tonic
Botanists say that trees need the powerful March winds to flex their trunks and main branches, so the sap is drawn up to nourish the budding leaves. Perhaps we need the gales of life in the same way, though we dislike enduring them.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
William Wordsworth, from "Daffodils" (http://www.gardendigest.com/monmar.htm)
Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment.
What is the basic nutrition for the soul? Well, it differs from creature to creature, but here are some combinations. ... For some women air, night, sunlight, and trees are necessities. For others, words, paper, and books are the only things that satiate. For others, color, form, shadow, and clay at the absolutes. Some women must leap, bow, and run, for their souls crave dance. Yet others crave only a tree-leaning peace.
Being able to say that one is a survivor is an accomplishment. For many, the power is in the name itself. And yet comes a time in the individuation process when the threat or trauma is significantly past. Then is the time to go to the next stage after survivorship, to healing and thriving. ... One can take so much pride in being a survivor that it becomes a hazard to further creative development. ... Once the threat is past, there is a potential trap in calling ourselves by names taken on during the most terrible time of our lives. It creates a mind-set that is potentially limiting. It is not good to base the soul identity solely on the feats and losses and victories of the bad times.
This expresses well my sense of the chief risk in twelve-step groups. They are tremendously helpful in bringing someone to a healthier frame of mind. Once the individual has reached it, however, the group can become a stifling influence, particularly through an insistence that any attempt to grow beyond the group is a sign of denial.
Do not cringe and make yourself small if you are called the black sheep, the maverick, the lone wolf. Those with slow seeing say a nonconformist is blight on society. But it has been proven over the centuries, that being different means standing at the edge, means one is practically guaranteed to make an original contribution, a useful and stunning contribution to her culture.
The only trust required is to know that when there is one ending there will be another beginning.
If you want to create, you have to sacrifice superficiality, some security, and often your desire to be liked, to draw up your most intense insights, your most far-reaching visions.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, from Women Who Run with Wolves
To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness.
The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light.
Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot, and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots.
The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.
Amy Lowell, from The Bath
And could you keep your heart in wonder
at the daily miracles of your life, your pain
would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your
heart, even as you have always accepted
the seasons that pass over your fields.
Kahil Gibran, from The Prophet
I Will Not Shy Away …Sorrow
Will Danforth, c Namaste Music 2004 BMI
I will not shy away from the sorrow
I will not deny the pain
I will hold onto the light of tomorrow
and the faith that there is something to gain
for the joy of living will elude us
until we ford that stream again
for my reward will surely follow
when I honor the fullness of each day
Sometimes, you don’t know what hit you
and sometimes life seems, pointless and cruel
and more than your share of disappointments
just seems to be the rule
and we don’t have satisfactory answers
and we may think things make no sense
but it never makes us happy
just to build a higher fence.
for the darkness harbors many secrets
and the harvest craves the rain
for to stuff them in some closet
would be to bottle up a flame
Now we all know that life’s a winding river
Brimming with deaths and rebirths
but we don’t know if there’s any intention
when it hits you where it hurts
now some say that we’re like cosmic magnets
and some espouse a common consciousness
but there’s no denying the contentment
when you can see all of life as blessed
I’ll not swallow the tears of tomorrow
nor mute the truths of today
I will keep my heart wide open
I will sing all of life’s refrains
as I honor my soul’s journey
in the sunshine and the rain.
Vocal, guitar & harmonica - Will
Upright bass & lead guitar – Colin McCaffrey
Djembe, bata & shaker – Marcus Copening
Harmony vocals – Patti Casey & Megan Danforth
These days, in the morning, when I wake up, my cat is up on my chest purring. I open my eyes, it’s light out, and I say, “Hey, I got another one…. And it’s a freebie.” Because I’ve already been dead four times. Twice by suicide. Twice as a result of the accident and then the coma. Four times. So what am I gonna do? I’m going to get up and I am going to use the gifts that I have been given. They are very considerable gifts. I have a lot of intelligence, I have a lot of understanding now…You put Van Gogh in front of the canvas and he knows what he has been given to do. He doesn’t think about it – he just does it. You use the talents you have been given. And while you are at it, you be as nice as you humanly can be to everyone around you. That’s the bottom line. My illness has become my greatest gift. My life has been touched by Grace. I know it
All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams and the myriad swarms of the air, called into life by the sunbeam of a summer morning, go home through death .... Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of life's feast -- all alike pass on and away under the law of death and love. Yet all are our sisters and brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share Heaven's blessings with us, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity. "Our lives are rounded with sleep."
I was lying in bed one day, thinking about my death, wondering if I'd be conscious enough to talk to my children, what I'd want to leave to them; famous last words, as it were.
The key word is trust. Trust everything that happens in life, even those experiences that cause pain, will serve to better you in the end. It's easy to lose the inner vision, the greater truths, in the face of tragedy. There really is no such thing as suffering simply for the sake of suffering. Along with developing a basic trust in the rhyme and reason of life itself, I advise you to trust your intuition. It is a far better guide in the long run than your intellect
Next on my list is to learn what love is. It is complete and utter surrender. That's a big word, surrender. It doesn't mean letting people walk all over you, take advantage of you. It's when we surrender control, let go of our egos, that all the love in the world is there waiting for us. Love is not a game, it's a state of being.
Henry Miller, from Reflections, edited by Twinka Thiebaud
For The Anniversary Of My Death
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
The assumption that human beings are different in kind and in importance from other species is something I've had great difficulty in accepting for 25 years or so. To me, it's a dangerously wrong way of seeing things. I think that our importance is not separable from the importance of all the rest of life. If we make the distinction in a too self-flattering way, if we say we are the only kind of life that's of any importance, we automatically destroy our own importance. Our importance is based on a feeling of responsibility and awareness of all life, the fact that we are a part of the entire universe and our importance is not different from the importance of the rest of the universe. We're not in that way the only valuable and interesting thing to have appeared in the universe.
W.S Merwin, from an online interview at "Modern American Poetry" with Daniel Bourne
She had four children in five years. The most significant that happened to her life, she told us, was losing one of those children to cancer when he was five years old. “I don’t talk about this very easily.” she said, looking down and speaking very quietly, “but it was pivitol for me. It changed my life — jelled it in a profound way. I have an image that comes to mind about that time. It’s of a white fire roaring through my life and burning out what was superficial, frivolous or unimportant and leaving a core of…. I don’t think there’s any other words for it than love. A core of love. It’s hard to convey what that means.”
Sandra Mardigian quoted in "Love After Love", from Cultural Creatives
The field of time is the field of sorrow. “All life is sorrowful.” And it is. If you try to correct the sorrows, all you do is shift them somewhere else. Life is sorrowful. How do you live with that? You realize the eternal life within yourself. You disengage, and yet, reengage. You—and here's the beautiful formula—”participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.” You play the game. It hurts, but you know that you have found the place that is transcendent of injury and fulfillments. You are there, and that's it.
"Maybe you're right, boss. It all depends on the way you look at it....Look, one day I had gone to a little village. An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. 'What, granddad!' I exclaimed. 'Planting an almond tree?' and he, bent as he was, turned round and said, 'My son, I carry on as if I should never die.' I replied, 'And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.' Which of us was right, boss?"
Nikos Kazantzakis, from Zorba the Greek
When someone close to you dies, you develop an awareness of the gossamer thread that life hangs by. You get an awareness of transiency. Everything is transient. Without that awareness, how can you truly live in awe of what you see--the seasons, the sun. To live life fully, to avoid devoting your whole life solely to accomplishing things, you have to be aware of death. Death gives you a set of lenses that no other experience gives you.
I am really looking forward to dying. I can't wait to die. I don't want to die before I am done with everything I have to do, but an amazing experience, to finally have all of your questions answered. I hope that when I go, that my little soul here will have learned enough and tasted enough and been challenged enough to really be in a great state of mind when it reaches that next ultimate experience. It will just be so wonderful. I can hardly stand thinking about it.
It was not the beautiful or pleasant feelings that gave me new insight but the ones against which I fought most strongly: feelings that made me experience myself as shabby, petty, mean, helpless, humiliated, demanding, resentful or confused, and above all, sad and lonely. It was precisely through these experiences, which I had shunned for so long, that I became certain that I now understood something about my life, stemming from the core of my being, something that I could not have learned from any book.
There was a woman, and it was she who was my belly and my blood. Now she waits for me in that distant place where the deer are as many as the stars. She was Kala, and she was of the Sea People, and not my people who lived far from the sea on the great plains where no trees grow. But I loved her beyond all things in the sea or on the land. …I loved her for the son she had borne, for the clothes that she made me, for the help that she gave me…but it went beyond that. I do not know how to explain it, but Kala held me in her soul. The love she gave me passed far beyond respect for a husband and entered that country of pleasure which we of the People do not often know….While I live I shall take gifts to her spirit each spring.
Anoteelik, Inuit, Hudson Bay, Canada
The thing is to love life
to love it even when you have no
stomach for it, when everything you’ve held
dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands
and your throat is filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you so heavily
it’s like heat, tropical, moist
thickening the air so it’s heavy like water
more fit for gills than lungs.
When grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief.
How long can a body withstand this? you think,
and yet you hold life like a face between your palms,
a plain face, with no charming smile
or twinkle in her eye,
and you say yes, I will take you
I will love you again.
Ellen Bass, from Prayers for a Thousand Years
When I Die
People talk about how
when their time comes
they want to go quietly, in their sleep,
watching the news and weather before
pulling back the sheets
and slipping into bed
one last time.
But I think that when I die,
when my "I am" becomes
"I am not,"
when the pendulum of my clock
I want my pockets
turned inside out,
and my glass
turned upside down.
I want to be a raindrop
breaking the surface of a pond, somewhere,
maybe a pine thicket pond,
with my concentric circles
wrapping themselves around the legs
of a great blue heron.
I want to be the white tail
of a deer, a metronome,
fading into the forest,
the thud, of a fallen hickory nut,
a baby’s last breath before
falling asleep on his mother’s breast.
When I die,
when I finish living this life
that never was really mine,
when all my stakes and claims
in this world
are rendered null and void,
I want to leave like
the final swirl of smoke
from a smoldering ember,
rising as a smile
The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.
For me the spiritual path has always been learning how to die. That involves not just death at the end of this particular life, but all the falling apart that happens continually. The fear of death -- which is also the fear of groundlessness, of insecurity, of not having it all together -- seems to be the most fundamental thing that we have to work with....We have so much fear of not being in control, of not being able to hold on to things. Yet the true nature of things is that you're never in control. You're never in control. You can never hold on to anything. That's the nature of how things are....So my own path has been training to relax with groundlessness and the panic that accompanies it....training to die continually.
The Wisdom of Hopelessness, Pema Chodron interviewed in the Utne Reader, May-June 1997.
When you consider something like death after which (there being no news flesh to the contrary) we may well go out like a candle flame, then it probably doesn’t matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply, are excessively curious about nature, are too open to experience, enjoy a nonstop expense of the sense in an effort to know life intimately and lovingly. It probably doesn’t matter if, while trying to be modest and eager watchers of life’s many spectacles, we sometimes look clumsy or get dirty or ask stupid question or reveal our ignorance or say the wrong thing or light up with wonder like the children we all are. It probably doesn’t matter if a passerby sees us dipping a finger in the moist pouches of dozens of lady’s slippers to find out what bugs tend to fall into them, and thinks us a bit eccentric. Or a neighbor, fetching her mail, sees us standing in the cold with our own letters in one hand and a seismically red autumn leaf in the other, its color hitting our senses like a blow from a stun gun, as we stand with a huge grin, too paralyzed by the intricately veined gaudiness of the leaf to move.
Diane Ackerman, from A Natural History of the Senses
...without death, life would lose half its drama. Joy would seem pallid, beauty pale, danger insipid, adventure empty. Our existence would become merely spiritual -- off white and ghostly. Sort of -- idyllic but boring. Boredom, in fact, would become the terror. I can imagine the most cruel and terrible gladiatorial contests taking place, as a populace sick with ennui seeks to recover the thrill of death, the joy of victory. Faced with death, the body recoils in fear, in horror, in terror. The body knows. The pious pray, but the body knows.
Face to face with death. To look death in the face -- see it, know it -- and then.. .go on. The heroic stance.
Ed Abbey, from a journal entry written a few months before he died.
When you love,
you complete a circle.
When you die,
the circle remains.
John Squadra, from the poem "Circle Of The Goddess", in the book This Ecstasy
I like to remember the distinguished Swedish oceanographer, Otto Pettersson, who died a few years ago at the age of ninety-three, in full possession of his keen mental powers. His son, also world-famous in oceanography, has related in a recent book how intensely his father enjoyed every new experience, every new discovery concerning the world about him.
"He was an incurable romantic," the son wrote, intensely in love with life and with the mysteries of the cosmos." When he realized he had not much longer to enjoy the earthly scene, Otto Pettersson said to his son: What will sustain me in my last moments is an infinite curiosity as to what is to follow."
Rachel Carson, from A Sense of Wonder
Meaning is not something that you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success and failure is of less account.
One must grieve, and one must go through periods of numbness that are harder to bear than grief. One must refuse the easy escapes offered by habit and human tradition. The first and most common offerings of family and friends are always distractions ("Take her out" - "Get her away" - "Change the scene" - "Bring in people to cheer her up" - "Don't let her sit and mourn," when it is mourning one needs)...
Courage is a first step, but simply to bear the blow bravely is not enough. Stoicism is courageous, but it is only a halfway house on the long road. It is a shield, permissible for a short time only. In the end one has to discard shields and remain open and vulnerable. Otherwise, scar tissue will seal off the wound and no growth will follow. To grow, to be reborn, one must remain vulnerable - open to love but also hideously open to the possibility of more suffering.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
There is a humbling that comes of accepting that you are not safe. It is the treasure in the field. …
Pain is a way that Love teaches us, for Love, it turns out, has something different in mind than being safe. You learn that underneath the barriers you’ve raised against life, there are whole octaves of response in you, unused and waiting to be engaged. Spiritual attitudes and behaviors such as Love, forgiveness, compassion and acceptance are our nature, once we are at the beginning of ourselves. We have gratitude and restraint, patience and gentleness, particularly with our own humanity. I think, in our heart of hearts, we tend to feel insufficient. Most of us have spent a lifetime judging our very human-ness in all its imperfections. I certainly did. What a terrible burden! Little did I know I was enough as I was. Loveable as I was. Acceptable as I was. So I fought it. Better to be strong and in control. Better to try to know. But Love has a different agenda and so the inner battle goes on until we surrender and surrender and surrender again.
How does one learn to face life’s calamities? My friend had long ago developed a faith that relied not so much on beliefs as on actual experience: years of spiritual practice in surrendering to what life offers. She tended not to rely on easy answers. Instead, she asked the hard questions, turning them over in her mind and answering as truthfully as she could.
“Who am I?” Her responses over more than eighty years had been partial, a gradual awakening to what was really true about her, what was facade or false premise. Bedrock to her, bedrock to her questioning was a desire to be honest: with herself and with others. Had she settled for a prescribed answer, limited herself to “I am a mother ... a professional ... a child of God ... a …,” there would have been no further search. She’d have been off the hook, saved from the hard work of learning to be an authentic person. Without doubt, she was guided by wisdom from her culture’s traditions. But she did not allow distilled answers to let her check the questions off, and say “Done!” Nor did she allow personal busyness or community service to let her avoid herself.
As time passed, her inquiry deepened: “Who am I, now, in this bed, with only a bedside table and a small locker of my own things around me – my world bounded by a hospital curtain? Who am I here, where no one knows my history, the work I have done, the children I’ve borne? How do I weigh the value of my life?” These were the final answers she was struggling for now, to the last of the human questions that had shaped her living: What is God? What really matters? What is a life well lived?
Over the years, she’d learned how to let go of attitudes and behavior, relationships and belongings, activities and beliefs that did not square with the honesty that increased with inquiry. As she entered the final six months of her life, there were far more fundamental surrenders. She told her friends, “I saw that life would have its way – over my body, my lifestyle, my freedom to move about.” She lost her hearing, then her sight, then her digestive ability. Breathing itself became difficult. She initially met each new challenge with an attempt to compensate; but all the hearing devices and special foods, medications and skilled helpers could not put my friend back together again. And those of us who watched and loved her understood that decades of learning to surrender did not make this one easy. But when she began to put what she’d practiced countless times before into effect for the last time, we saw before our own eyes how such an acceptance works.
She began with an honest recognition of the truth, an admission of complete defeat. There followed a period of grieving, and finally an unqualified acceptance of each of these losses as part of her life. As the weeks and months passed, I watched her take each step, first faltering, then clear and forthright, following her own light, trusting that her work would be accompanied as it had in the past by a sense of peace, of release and completion. I watched her allow her own grieving and that of her friends. She talked openly about what it was like for her. I felt let in.
Such a person ultimately stands naked before life, as vulnerable as a turtle without a shell, yet with an amazing strength born of facing the truth about herself and about life. I watched her show me how this stage of life is done, not with platitudes and intellectual assertions, but with a deep and ultimately graceful assent to life-as-it-is that is whole-hearted. Love cannot be defined. But we approach it in this quality of Embrace.
Anne Hillman, from Awakening the Energies of Love
Of all the chief reasons we have so much anguish and difficulty facing death is that we ignore the truth of impermanence. We so desperately want everything to continue as it is that we have to believe that things we’ll always stay the same. But this is only make-believe. And as we so-often discover, belief has little of nothing to do with reality. This make-believe, with its misinformation, ideas and assumptions, is the rickety foundation on which we construct our lives. No matter ho much the truth keeps interrupting, we prefer to go on trying, with hopeless bravado, to keep up our pretense.
In our minds, changes always equal loss and sufferings. And if they come, we try to anesthetize ourselves as far as possible. We assume, stubbornly and unquestioningly, that permanence provides security and impermanence does not. But, in fact, impermanence is like some of the people we meet in life — difficult and disturbing at first, but on deeper acquaintance far friendlier and less unnerving than we could have imagined.
Sogyal Rinpoche, from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
It's the heart afraid of breaking
that never learns to dance
It's the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance
It's the one who won't be taken
who cannot seem to give
and the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live
When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed
that with the sun's love
in the spring
becomes the rose
Bette Midler, from "The Rose"
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life.
Ursula Le Guin, with thanks to "Friends of Silence"