These simple guidelines from a wise teacher stunned me when I first heard them. They perfectly described what I felt was required to survive in those first months after our son died. There was a sense in which I really wasn’t sure I could live through that, so I knew I needed some very specific and simple steps to follow if I was to make it.
Words simply do not adequately describe those first days. I was literally brought to my knees, could not stand or walk as I was accustomed to doing. I honestly didn’t know how to go about my days. Something had happened to me that was totally unacceptable. I had no choice but to stare at this complete shattering of my heart – this rearranging of my life - and let it change me and my view of the world.
I was broken and unable to be the resilient person I’d always expected myself to be. Instead of being “the helper”, I needed help and a lot of it . . . I needed patience, encouragement, and guidance. Instead of being “the teacher”, I was completely lost - in my very skin, in my own family and certainly in the world as I had known it.
I learned to be careful with my expectations of myself. I was emotionally exhausted most of the time and so had to deliberately choose my activities and exposure to people. Too much of either and I could implode. Mostly I was just trying to breathe.
I felt the only way through this was to just keep looking and trying to see everything that was changing as clearly as I could. I had to let my illusions fall away, allow myself to become this person who was different from what I thought I was or wanted to be. I had to let go of dreams I’d never even questioned – like having both my children around me for the rest of my life.
The hardest was, of course, to let go of Matt. . . . his presence, his smile, his touch, his plans, his dreams . . . . and allow him to be with me in a new way.
This is the grounded awareness I still seek. . . . and in my better moments can live into. Now I know that unfathomable things can happen. Pain can strike a heart and rip it to shreds. And it can mend. Amazingly, a broken heart can feel “joy”, “delight” and “hope” again. Those realities are different because they are shaded by deep struggle. In the same sense that we have carved out the space inside to bear our sorrow, we also have created the capacity for deeper joy.
It is very clear to me how important “now” is. Peaceful contentment comes when I can be fully in it noticing the beauty that is always waiting to surprise me. Taking time to sit quietly each morning and to remember helps me to be careful not to let the pace of the world take my energy or dictate my priorities.
The willingness to not turn away is also the willingness to be changed by what you encounter. And that, so my wise teacher has said, is the very definition of compassion.