Grief is a sacred journey

Ask the Heart What It Wants

Drawing inspired by Orpheus

Drawing inspired by Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus

“Vic was a consummate teacher,” I said to my therapist last week after I’d watched a video of my husband giving a talk. “Jean Raffa is a terrific teacher, too.” I’d just seen Jean’s video Dream Theatre of the Ego and looked forward to her other four YouTube videos in this series.

My therapist smiled her “I see something” smile.

“So what are you?” she asked.

My mind went blank. What am I other than a little lost?

“I’m a woman on my own,” I said.

Dotty7 “I’m a woman who needs to be outside every day in any weather. Did you read May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude?  I relate to that.”

She nodded yes.

“Solitude. It’s an option,” I said. “A frowned upon option, but it’s what I seem to need. ‘You’ll get depressed. You’ll get lonely. You’ll feel unloved,’ people warn me.”

“Maybe, I think. Maybe. But I feel depressed in crowds of people. I am loneliest at a big conference in a city hotel. I feel unloved and isolated when I’m unable to communicate or hear.”

DSC03541“There’s nothing wrong with solitude if that’s what you long for,” my therapist said.

I was once an extrovert, a gregarious young woman who spent most of my time with others. I still value and depend on community, but an introverted life showed up after my husband died.

“So what else are you?” my therapist asked.

“I’m a Jungian. I’ve seen my world through a Jungian lens since I was introduced to his work in 1970. It’s a perspective I’m sharing in writing. I want to do more of that.”

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Artemis (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, flickr)

DSC05817 “I’m a woman who loves Nature. I’m at home with big trees, sunsets, and bodies of water. Yes, I miss sharing this with Vic and love friends who want to walk with Willow and me, but like Artemis the Huntress, I’m comfortable alone.

“You can give me any city you choose,” Artemis said to her father Zeus, “but just one. Unlike the other Olympians, I’ll rarely go there. I intend to live in the mountains.”

DSC02935-001I see Artemis in the hills and valleys. I see her in the forest surrounded by wild creatures and untamed vegetation. She protects women in childbirth, the wildest of places, and provides quick death for those who cannot survive. She is a life-giver and life-destroyer. Like Nature.

“What about being a writer?” my therapist asked.

“Ah, yes. I feel a little unsure about where I’m going now that my first book is out and the second is in progress, but far from finished.”

Then my therapist did what she does so well. She remembered.

“Do you remember the advice you gave to a young boy in a dream a few years ago, a young boy who symbolized your young inner writer self?”

“I remember,” I said with a grin.

DSC03303“You told him to write every day, even if no one reads it. You said, ‘that’s what writer’s do.'”

“Yes, that’s what I said. That’s what I do,” I said with tears running down my cheeks. “My heart longs to write and a writer needs time alone.”

 ***

What does your heart long for? When I feel rattled or lost, it’s good to talk to someone who helps me remember what I know. Do you have people like that in your life?

For other posts about the messy and exhilarating adventures of life as a writer, see Savoring the Solitude: A Writer’s Life or My Creative Dilemma. I hope you’ll enjoy my recent Jungian article about Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women by Sylvia Perera (Inner City Books, 1981). I loved re-reading the book and writing about it.

30 Comments
  1. When I read this, it was like I was reading something I had written. I too live in the country on property. I too love my solitude. I too am so lonely in crowds, or lots of people, even people I know. I too am a woman on her own. I am a widow, just over six months now. I did not get to say good by to my husband. I loved him deeply, and my grief is brutal. Few people can be witness to my grief. So they have fallen away from me. Only a very few witness my grief, with love and patience.
    I have always been a loner. And My husband was a loner with me. We were two independent people who loved each other.
    I write every day. I started writing every day last year, when Ron and I went through my breast cancer surgery and treatment together.
    Thank you Elaine, for validating my heart. My heart needs solitude in the home we built together, and the property and woods we loved.

    • Hi Deb. Thanks for your response. I never know how my posts will touch or not touch others. I hear you when you say your grief is brutal. It hurts to have the heart busted into little pieces and you had no warning and didn’t get a last goodbyes. After Vic died, six months felt like a long agonizing time. I was still stunned and uncomfortable in my new world.

      As you know, writing was good medicine for me. Having a therapist who loves to explore dreams helped a lot, too. I’m still seeing her every other week because I need that kind of mirroring in my life. As you can tell, she helps me ask the right questions and she never answers them for me. I’m glad you had Ron at your side during breast cancer. You’ve had a tough few years, Deb. I hope you give yourself plenty of credit for being a strong woman. You are still standing and articulating and figuring it out.

    • I too have always felt like a loner. My husband died 2 yrs.ago and it is difficult being alone. Yet, though I grieve,I often feel a sense of a new beginning, a new life that sometimes makes me feel guilty. I am 71 yrs. old but feel much younger. Who knows what the future may bring.
      Elaine is very inspiring.
      Susan Jones

      • Thank you, Susan. It’s an honor to be called inspiring and I’m learning to be more comfortable with being a loner. Vic and I spent a lot of time just together or working alone on different projects, but together at night. This new world took some adjustment. I’m a year younger than you. I began feeling that sense of new possibility about two years after my husband died. We’re all unique. I don’t have any guilt at all about this new life. I wanted it and Vic wanted it for me. It takes a while and it’s still unfolding. Of course, it always was unfolding, but everything feels newer now and not at all what I expected.

  2. Beautiful post Elaine. It’s not uncommon for women of strength to treasure their solitude. I’m not sure who you were while Vic was alive, but the writer I’ve come to know in you is fierce and empowered, and there’s nothing wrong with loving solitude. I’m married and I prefer my solitude much of the time. Old habits die hard; I lived on my own for decades. But there is something that takes over when you become fulfilled in the writing world. Many things become so secondary. 🙂

    • Thanks, Debby. Vic and I spent lots of time together, each doing our own thing and touching base, especially at mealtimes and in the morning to tell dreams. I had never lived alone for more than a few months before Vic died, so I had to learn that I’m OK with that and prefer it. My job as a writer now is to pull in and write what I love–even if no one else reads it.

  3. Ah, you have May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude on your shelf too. When I read her book, I felt as though I was her invisible companion. The line “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self” stands out. As does the tweet of her parrot, the solace of her garden, the objects in her study. My Myers-Briggs says I’m an ENFJ, but I think I must be borderline “I” because solitude is restorative for me as I see it is for you.

    Your photos are stunning. I almost gasped at the beach photo. It could be either a sunrise or sunset depending on one’s perspective. Now I wonder who took the photo of you in the woods with your rain jacket. It wasn’t a selfie – ha!

    • I’ve always been considered an extrovert, Marian, but that began to shift long before Vic died. In the 1980s, I think, when my sons moved away from home. My spiritual community changed around the same time because our teacher died in 1984, so in time I attended fewer group classes and meditations.

      The beach photo is post-sunset on a cloudy day on Seneca Lake. My friend Dotty took the photo of me leaning against a basswood tree a few years ago. She lives in AZ now, but has been here a few times for extended visits. We first met in the early 1970s, raised our kids together, and worked and studied together. It’s instant intimacy when I see her and we’re able to give each other plenty of space and support each other. On that trip, she helped me plant wildflower seeds in my fields.

  4. Thank you Elaine, a reminder of why we write. Perhaps it is the preserve of the introvert to desire alone time, sometimes hard to find. Mother Nature provides her loving arms at all times. I wish I did have my really good friends around, but the two of them live abroad. The others that live locally, I seldom see. My dreams of course provide sustenance …

    • I remember longing to be alone when I had little kids, Susan. It seemed those years would last forever–but they didn’t.
      Yes to our dreams. After trying therapists who specialize in grief, I chose my therapist because she is a Jungian dreamworker. Vic and I shared dreams and explored them together, so it’s great to do this with someone. I also have good friends who live at a distance and my kids live far away. When I’m with those close people, it’s instant intimacy. Recently, I spend too much time with male helpers. Things keep busting around here. It’s another kind of friendship for me since Vic always handled the big house repairs. Now I call local men for help when a job is beyond me.

  5. You are so good at bringing forth ideas and feelings in your writing. I really look forward to your posts and find they always stir up genuine wonder and triggers for thought. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you, Bev. I so appreciate your comment. Although I’m a woman with strong feelings, it’s been a challenge to learn how to integrate this part of myself in writing. I began with a more journalistic style learned from writing about women’s health issues. I had to learn to trust those feelings a bit more. Thanks for encouraging me.

  6. I think this question is so crucial to discovering our purpose and really finding joy. I have recently been focusing on letting my soul speak, and really listening to that voice, rather than the clatter of the outside world (or my fears). I have been on this wild ride, and I’m seeing now that I should have done this long ago. Things are falling into place in amazing ways. Life is a beautiful journey. Thanks for sharing this great post! Your work is lovely.

    • How nice to read this, Rica. I’ve read a few of your posts, so have a small taste of what you write and your beautiful perspective. It’s hard for women to turn inward for answers after thousands of years of living with men who thought they had all the answers. We’re finding our own deep wisdom. I love the ancient goddess stories because they remind me that the wisdom has always been there, even when I wasn’t looking for it and didn’t know I needed it.

  7. Together with your insightful writing, I love how you share the warmth of your heart Elaine. Your great article, insightful drawing and wonderful photos invite the reader to not only pull up a cosy armchair but to join you beside December’s calling fire.

    I share your appreciation of solitude on a deep-rooted level, and found myself nodding throughout … although I do worry at times, that I enjoy my own company way too much. However, as a poet and writer I know that I will always be constantly craving solitude. Writing; such a pleasurable Aladdin’s lamp for illuminating Self!

    I also enjoy sharing my world with others who have hand-picked themselves that Jungian lens and despite, physically being thousands of miles apart, in less than a few moments I feel on a soul level always at ‘home’ again when I read their words. I can’t explain it any other way.

    Thanks to your brilliant book review on ‘Descent to the Goddess’ earlier this week I am re-reading my copy. Last night my ‘descent’ dreams were incredible, you just couldn’t make the synchronicity and timing up! Oh how I needed to read this book again, I had no idea at all until I read your ‘nudging’ words. Warm winter wishes, Deborah.

    • Deborah, thanks for being part of my community so many thousands of miles away. We share so much without meeting each other in person. After a huge hearing loss three years ago (following on and off slow loss for about 20 years), my on-line community is more important than ever. I’ve been looking for something to write for a class tonight. The spark or prompt is “unintended consequences.” I think I’ll write about the unintended positive consequences of deafness and death, but I’ll see what shows up on the page. Thank you for being a muse.

      I am behind on reading others due to writing two new articles, including the one you mention. This book has more to say to us when we’re weathered by life. While I write about the underworld, my old house develops new problems. Clogged drain pipe, broken fan to vent kitchen cooking smells and gases, and more. A few days ago, the 25-year-old wood stove developed a big crack. Light comes right through it, so no more fires in that old stove. They feel like underworld messages from a dream. I bought a new wood stove yesterday and it will be installed a week from today–before the coldest weather arrives. Another unintended consequence. With the woodstove working properly, I will have a warm winter. Wishing you warmth and light.

      • “This book has more to say to us when we’re weathered by life.”

        Your wise words encourage me (when I’ve finished reading!) to push the book down to the back of my bookshelves … to pull out again in another decade or two. Hope your class went well, love your rich reply and discovering so much more about you. Blessings always, Deborah.

        • I love my writing class. I nearly always write about something unexpected. It’s the source for many blogs. I love those books on my shelves with underlinings and past histories. Some I return to again and again. Some eventually go in the library book sale box. Love to you.

  8. Elaine, in case you haven’t read it—a lovely book entitled “Party of One: the Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus. I really enjoyed it. Your post made me think of it. :O)

  9. Thank you for being out there, Elaine. I don’t feel so alone knowing you are also walking the woods with your dog, writing in a cozy corner of your sunny house, and enjoying being solo in nature. I tend to prefer being with people but have learned that sometimes it only makes me lonelier. Luckily I have good friends. But I miss the kind of company that simply, peacefully inhabits time and space alongside me, without drama or annoying demands. Maybe I yearn for a true soulmate. ? More likely, I yearn for my former crazy chaotic home with people, young and old, coming and going. Just having someone to say Good Morning and Goodnight to might be nice.

    • Hi Robin. I miss the power of Good Morning, Good Night, or How Are You Feeling Today? Nice to know someone is keeping tabs on us and notices if we have a headache. Phone calls are good, but not the same. Nothing is the same, eh? For me, that’s the biggest lesson. Nothing is the same and it’s essential to find every drop of goodness and possibility in what is. My mother-in-law has been a great teacher of the corrosive power of perpetual dissatisfaction. She helps me catch that tendency in myself.

  10. Much food for thought. I am a lifelong introvert, becoming steadily more hermit-like, and finding some solace in nature.

    • Vivienne, do the introverts become more extroverted and the extroverts become more introverted? That’s the rumor, but I’m not sure it works that way. I’m comfortable with solitude now and I’m working hard to stay physically fit because I want to be in Nature. Without that, I would surely be a hermit, but in Nature, there is plenty of company with other living beings.

  11. Dear Elaine,
    your post is deep felt and speaks out louds, as always…
    I tend to think that solitude is a state of mind, and sometimes we can achieve it even if we are surrounded by people… I have my little tricks… And I like to think and meditate mainly at night, but some other times when I am drinking tea in my little garden…
    Artemis is a God that have always caught my attention…Mostly because she promised that she would never marry, and that would be chaste for all eternity.
    But, despite this she was not a complete loner, so to speak… In spite of having renounced to sexual love, she was surrounded by eighty virgin nymphs who were her hunting companions.
    There is a beautiful myth, though… it features Artemis, Zeus and indirectly Callisto, who was one of Artemis´nymphs… The former was seduced by the god Zeus (also known as Jove, roman equivalent: Jupiter), in the guise of the goddess Artemis. I will forward you this myth via Twitter, so you can read it in detail..
    Thanks for sharing a bit of your own story… I admire your wise approaches.
    Sending all my best wishes. Aquileana ☀️

    • Thanks for your comment and details about Artemis, Aquileana. I studied her myths thoroughly about twenty years ago. In returning to her recently in a women’s mythology class, we re-read Nor Hall’s book The Moon and the Virgin. Nor emphasizes the Artemis that stands close to the threshold between the worlds in the wild places and has strong links to Hecate. This caught my imagination.

      There is so much to be said about the Artemis myth, and you do a great job with that. I’m experimenting with writing about the specific way I weave the goddess archetypes and my relationship to nature into self-understanding. This is something I’ve done for many years. These archetypal connections can help all women deepen self-understanding and make life richer and more meaningful. These archetypes offer me guidance over and over again, especially in hard times. While working on Artemis material, a young woman showed up in my life who is strikingly like Artemis. She even hunts with her father. Our synchronistic world!

  12. A beautiful post, Elaine, and dovetails right into my hopes and fears at the moment. Thank you.

    • My hope is that fear won’t take over–in myself and in the world. Vietnam war times were fearful, but full of hope and possibility. “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

  13. I love how you share so much of yourself with your readers, Elaine. I’m an introvert through and through – always have been. I find I’ve been craving solitude more than ever lately. I’m working long days and, while the reward is there, interaction with people all day long just drains me. My team has doubled and it seems there’s a constant line at my office door. They’re like my little ducklings… the next one comes in the minute the last one walks out. The phone rings all day long. By the time I get home, I’m mentally worn out and the need for quiet, alone time is overwhelming. At this stage of my life, I’m not sure I could live with someone else…. Sending you love from Ohio.

    • Ann, thank you for spending some of your weekend reading my articles. How sweet you are. I can only imagine having a job requiring so much interaction–even when my hearing was good. I’ve settled into a solitary life with an ease I wouldn’t have expected after never living on my own more than a month or two without a roommate, a family, or Vic. Love back from upstate NY where I had zero snow from the big January storm.

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