Wednesday, August 29, 2012

listening beneath the words

photograph by Ashley Unbehagen

Recently I read a story about a woman who was losing her hearing. 

In the initial stages of this loss, she strained and struggled to hear the words and to piece the parts she could hear into meaning.  Every conversation and encounter was an exercise in anxiety.  Finally, she realized this and made the decision to stop struggling and try to listen beneath the words for what was being communicated.  She “listened” to the faces, the gestures and the warmth that radiated from those speaking.  She “listened” for light and compassion and love. 

Deep grief is like this.    

At first we struggle so desperately to see and hear this child whose absence we cannot accept.  We soak up pictures, memories, voice mail messages trying to recapture what is outside our reach.  But as healing happens, we learn to relax into some sense that is beneath or beyond those visual and auditory cues.  We learn to trust the presence of this loving connection that will never die and our hearts learn to embrace all that is true beyond the physical.   

I wonder.
Can we do that with our loved ones whose physical presence is still with us?
Can we relax into what we know about hearts, their true presence and listen beneath the words?  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

embraced by magnificence

When our life experience captures our attention in ways we cannot ignore and
our perspective becomes fiercely focused, 
let us not forget
the magnitude and magnificence that holds us.  

Monday, August 13, 2012


Our 8 year old grandson has a pet spider named Chuck.  Nathaniel got Chuck when he was just a tiny speck of a thing, but now he has grown big, eats crickets and lives in a plastic box in Nathaniel’s bedroom.  No spider is as loved and well cared for as Chuck.  

Yesterday Nathaniel very excitedly took me to his room, asked me to close my eyes and then proudly showed me Chuck’s exoskeleton.   There in Nathaniel’s palm lay this inert, shriveled spider shell.  He carefully explained how important it is for Chuck to shed his skin, because “if he didn’t do that, he couldn’t grow”.  He also tenderly explained that as Chuck’s new skin grew, he was “vulnerable and needed lots of water”.

Living with the grief of losing a child is something like this.  It requires us to molt our old skin and grow a new one.   

Who we were before our child died, how we saw the world, the very scope and balance of our lives all changes.  The process of grief, in one sense at least, is the rearranging of who we are and how we live -  the growing of a new skin.   

And like Chuck, while that new skin is forming, we are vulnerable . . . unprotected . . . . exposed.  It is a raw time of feeling like someone else.  To accept that change, to patiently allow it to occur, to bravely suffer the rearranging of our lives is the exhausting work of grief.  There simply is no other way to grow an interior space big enough to hold this new truth we are living. 

What helps?  
A loved one like Nathaniel who tenderly understands that this is a special time of need . . . and patiently offers us lots of water.    

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Blessing of Light

In ancient Irish tradition, the mother of the house would tend the fire to keep it burning.  It was her job to make sure it never went out.  As she stirred it to a glow each morning, she offered a blessing similar to this one.   

May the blessing of Light be upon you,
Light without and Light within.

May it illuminate your way
and warm your heart
til it glows like a great fire
so that strangers come to warm themselves,
as well as friends.

May this Light shine from your eyes,
like a candle set in the window of a home,
bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.

As grief closes in on us we sometimes forget that we have something to offer others.   We feel so needy ourselves that we can overlook the possibility that grief itself can open us to another level of acceptance and compassion toward others.  In that way, grief frees us to be (as Ettie Hillesum says) “kind to one another with all the goodness that is in us.”