Don’t run away from grief, o soul,
Look for the remedy inside the pain,
because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone.
The weight of my husband Vic’s death crushed me in 2008. Grief filled every waking moment and my dreams, too. Rumi helped me stay with my sorrow and trust that it would heal me.
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.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)
A close, trusted friend sent me this Rilke poem soon after Vic’s death. Depressing, you might think, but the dark images comforted me. I knew others had passed through this land of no hope and emerged to describe what I experienced. With the help of friends and therapists, I trusted my pain would make me “strong and fierce.” I trusted that, in some mysterious way, my surrender to grief mattered to something greater than myself. (When Rilke writes of “the master” breaking in, he means the Divine or God.)
Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly
let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so soft
my voice so tender
my need of God
As raw grief softened with time, Hafiz assured me that my loneliness would lead to a more universal Love. I walked in Nature and watched the ever-moving cycles of life. I meditated and spent time in silence and prayer. I sat with the silence that accompanied grief.
To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
~Mary Oliver, “In Blackwater Woods.”
Mary Oliver taught me to hold love and grief close to my heart and let go when I could. Just for a moment at first. No hurry. I spoke of sorrow where I felt safe. Through writing, I absorbed what I had lost and moved the darkness bit by bit. Acknowledging grief cleared space for the beauty of a Swallowtail butterfly, a child’s laugh, and the love that still surrounded me. Bringing grief into light eventually led me to help others express, endure, and grow through loss.
Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.
I end where I began with Rumi who assured me that my sense of connection with Vic was a healing force. Vic’s inner presence became my strength, not something to push away or discard.
I think of Vic, take flowers to the place where his ashes are buried, and write about our life together. I keep a space for him in my heart as new life grows in and around me.
And, every day, I send him my news.
What poems helped you during the hardest times? If you like this post, you’ll also enjoy Poems to Soothe a Grieving Heart. “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye was an essential teacher for Vic and me during his illness. I also wrote an article about a new poem by Naomi Shihab Nye in Did I Get Enough Love?