Strong Hearts Carry Both Joy and Sorrow

Bluebird eggs

The forest is green with moss and ferns. Fiddleheads near the stream are ready to harvest and the maple trees dropped their tiny red flowers on the forest floor. Trout lilies finish their season just as Trillium begins theirs.

The dogs love to run along the trails, but I climb the hill to Vic’s Red Oak. They willingly follow me. I stand at the granite cairn where Vic’s ashes are buried and listen to a Red-Winged Blackbird call from the swamp at the forest’s edge.

Trout Lily (Dog Toothed Violet)

Vic died on June 3, 2008— many years ago and oh so recent. I’ve learned to carry the grief of death near the love that still supports me every day. There’s enough room in my heart for both. I don’t grieve as I once did, but when the lupine leaves spread in the fields and the hummingbirds return, the presence of Vic’s absence pierces my heart.

In the forest near Vic’s cairn, I search for moments of peace in this time of war. The wildflowers comfort me in a world of anger and cruelty. I forget nasty politics and climate catastrophe and breathe in the peace of now. Don’t we all need peace breaks in order to carry on the work of saving our world?

Willow stays close and sniffs around in the old oak leaves. Disco searches for a perfect rock. I quietly thank Vic for loving me and read a poem we often read together, a poem that became my prayer and practice:

When men and women come together,
How much they have to abandon! Wrens
Make their nests of fancy threads
And string ends, animals

Mama Wren

Abandon all their money each year.
What is it that men and women leave?
Harder than wren’s doing, they have
To abandon their longing for the perfect.

The inner nest not made by instinct
Will never be quite round,
And each has to enter the nest
Made by the other imperfect bird.”
~ Robert Bly, Listening to the Koln Concert (2nd half)

Vic and I read this poem to each other on our 39th anniversary and I read it to him on our 40th,  just a few weeks before his death. The idea of giving up the perfect is as powerful in my aging years as it was when we were newly married.

Fiddlehead Ferns

After reciting to the cairn, the Oak trees, and the birds, I walk down to the stream so the dogs can splash and drink while I harvest fiddlehead ferns. On the way home, I check the Bluebird nesting box and find three almost perfect blue eggs.


This time of year awakens the grief I felt in Vic’s last month when he was clearly dying. The grief is accompanied by a burst of spring beauty in Nature. Each side helps balance the other. Do you have times of year when grief feels most difficult? What helps you hold a balance?

For other posts about Bluebirds, see When the Bluebirds Fledged. For another post about keeping love alive, see 6 Ways to Invite Love to a Death Anniversary.

  1. I hear Joy among the colors of spring you portray here, but also Grief. As you mention, “I’ve learned to carry the grief of death near the love that still supports me every day.” The loss of a loved one, so beloved, is the cost of commitment. Sad, but true. The leaves of the dog-toothed violet seem to illustrate the piercing pain of bereavement.

    The Robert Bly poem is beautiful, one I’ve never read before. Your ritual of reading the poem is lovely, poignant. I mentioned, maybe on Facebook, or perhaps on a previous post the value of a book I’m reading, which is helping me see grief in a new light: Susan Cain’s Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. You do the same at Vic’s cairn, observing new life with spring’s awakening.

    Fall is the time when I feel the loss of loved ones most keenly. I’m not sure why, but the cooler weather and the change to a new season makes me feel nostalgic. What an affecting post, Elaine!

    • Thank you for reading each word and absorbing each feeling, Marian. Yes, there is joy and I keep bringing myself back to the remembrance of that. It’s a spiritual practice for me. And at the same time, I take in the grief around me–friends with hard diagnoses, a friend in a memory care unit, the pandemic and the horrors of war. I feel one of the problems of our world is that we’re so, so busy avoiding the sadness and suffering that we block the feelings that make us vulnerable and tender. Nature helps me stay open to life and death. There’s a starling in my woodstove chimney right now, fighting the pull of gravity toward the cold ashes. Once it drops from exhaustion, I can pick it up (with rubber gloves) and release it outside. This happens every spring and they always fly away and seem OK.

      The forest is beautiful at this moment and the wildflowers will disappear as the leaves shade the forest floor–unless we get another invasion of caterpillars like last season, but it’s not expected this year. I’m grateful to walk on the trails again, watch the lupine leaves grow, and imagine the first butterflies coming soon. I’m grateful we’ve had plenty of rain (some would say too much), because drought is so hard on the creatures and farmers who live here. May you have a beautiful week filled with love.

  2. Dear Elaine, Oh, how the deep truth of your title speaks volumes to this resonating soul! Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos and beautiful heart. Offering all, a peace break (I love that expression!) from those warring battles and heartache, above and below. Encouraging us to settle down into “inner (soul) nests” and embrace the beauty and power of now.

    May is my favourite month, the month in which me and Lin got married too, and one in which my mother died last year. So I can relate deeply with joy and sorrow. Indeed, both are necessary for a strong heart. Thank you for this timely reminder! There’s magick at this time with the Green Men and His (beloved) Goddess meeting and mating in woodlands all over the world.

    Yesterday to honour my mother’s passing we visited local woodlands which were carpeted with sweet flowering garlic, in some places, as far as the eye could see. I’ll get Lin to add her video to a comment later so we can share our walk with you! How are your oaks doing? Recovered? I hope so! Sending you much love and light across the oceans and oaks between us, Deborah.

    • It’s nice hearing from you again, Deborah, although I understand the need for a break, especially in winter. As you know, Vic and I were married in May, but on a cold rainy day, so foggy we were afraid friends wouldn’t be able to find our friend’s home. Instead of marrying in their forest as planned, we got married inside. And it didn’t matter where we were because we were so in love. Yes, it’s a magic time of year and the world is so green. The season is late this year, so I’m still enjoying spring flowers like daffodils and the birds are building nests or incubating eggs. I’m grateful as I spy on them.

      I’m glad you were able to honor your mother’s death anniversary with Lin. It’s nice to share this with someone you love. I’ll have a ritual with Lupines on Vic’s death date next month. The oaks are putting out tiny leaves and it’s too early to tell if there will be an invasion of spongy moths (now renamed but previously called gypsy moths). They tend to move on because they get viruses that only affect them. The foresters around here assure me there won’t be a big invasion and I hope they’re right. There are always a few of these caterpillars in the forest, but then there are years like last year–the worst I’d ever seen. It feels like Covid should be enough to punish us, but we’ve harmed the environment and the political situation is dreadful and dire, so big changes are demanded. I hope we humans can see what must be done and do it. I wish we could give up on war. Meanwhile, I walk in the forest, enjoy the early spring wildflowers and watch those old trees carefully, hoping not to see caterpillars eating the leaves.

      Much love as you hold the joy of spring in your heart right next to the grief of your mother’s death and so many other heartaches. May all be well as we emerge from our rabbit holes into the green grace of spring. With tender love to you and Lin.

  3. My mother, for whom I cared nearly five years, died (four years ago now) the day before Earth Day, as the trillium were blooming in the forest by her home that she loved so much. Spring was her favorite season. When I walk in the forest this time of year now, I’m nothing but grateful for her life. I always miss her being in the world, but grief doesn’t swallow me when everything is returning to life. I’m so glad she didn’t die in winter, when she experienced seasonal depression. I imagine the anniversaries would be harder. The places that were special to her are where I go now to feel close to her, to walk the trails she walked, to examine nature as she did. I’m glad you have such places with your Vic. Thank you for the gift of your words and photographs.

    • I’m glad you have these memories, Gretchen. It makes a difference when Grief is softened by Beauty. I felt gratitude for nature when I returned home the day of my husband’s death (June 3, 2008) and the fields were filled with Lupines. All of nature rejoiced and I couldn’t help noticing the beauty and exuberance. Since then, Lupine season is a reminder of love and mortality for me and I honor my husband’s memory every year by picking Lupines and taking them to the place in the forest where we buried his ashes. Being open to the grief of loss keeps my heart open to love and it sounds as though the same is true for you. Trillium blessings to you.

  4. For me, the angle of the afternoon light at the equinoxes is what is most poignant. He died at the vernal equinox and his birthday is at the opposite one, so the slant of the sunlight on the walls at these points of the year affects me intensely. I’ve been dreaming of him often lately but he never interacts with me in them, but is just busy doing his own thing. I don’t know how to interpret that, unless it’s just my mind trying to make sense of it all.

    • Thanks for sharing that powerful visual and emotional memory, Joe. The light in our world makes a strong impression and we often don’t notice, but you noticed at that powerful moment! In early dreams after Vic’s death, I had strong feeling interactions with dream Vic, often with tears or the anguish of not being able to find him. Now he’s usually just present as a quiet background character, but not interacting with me. I feel he’ll always be an inner part of my psyche, a sort of witness and helper. Slowly our psyche’s adjust to our loss and the images change. Blessings to you.

  5. Oh, dear Elaine.Beautiful, heart touching words. When you write about your loss, I fully understand your feeling as I had mine: “many years ago and oh so recently”. The poem fulfils my heart, even though it talks about a particular pair! I am so sorry again and again for my so late writing comments. I am very profoundly dived in Jung’s books these days. In June, the grieves will accompany us both; Al’s day is June 26th. Take care and be blessed, dear friend.

    • Aladin, I agree that the particularity of the pair isn’t the point. Instead it’s the death of someone irreplaceable in our lives. I’m glad you’re diving deeply into your Jung work. I think Al would approve and I’ll remember you in late June. (It’s a crazy idea that we should ever try to forget or move past our grief for those we love so dearly. Why would we choose to give up these precious heart connections?)

  6. I’ve only now come across your post Elaine, on FB. It’s such a lovely post and I can well imagine you walking to the cairn and reciting Bly’s poem. The walk back too so that dogs can splash, and the extra reward of blue eggs on your return. So for me there’s an acknowledgement and sense of death and a visual one of life. Keep death alive on your left shoulder – a saying from someone, somewhere, some time –
    Thank you for the this and your beautiful photos

    • Thank you, Susan. There’s a seasonal rhythm in my posts since I still live where I lived with Vic and so much of our early work on the land and our home remains. I never get tired of walking to his cairn or checking into the nesting boxes or watching the lupines arrive in the spring. Or the songs of the various bird species and the planting of the garden. Nature’s rhythms continue on and I find peace here even when the world is filled with chaos. My roots are deep and I also feel how temporary life is. I think of you with your beautiful grandson and hope you see him often. May all be well in your world.

  7. Dear Elaine, I love the title of your post and the truth it speaks. As I age, I find comfort in knowing that experiencing both the joy and sorrow is what strengthens my heart. The poem by Robert Bly is such a wonderful reminder that the longing for the perfect is what keeps me (all of us) from experiencing what is right here, a practice I return to over and over and over again.

    Wishing for the starling in your woodstove chimney to let go soon, when it can then be released by you. Makes me think about how hard it is to let go — and we often have to reach the point where we just can’t hold on any longer until we do. I wonder if faith is being able to imagine the possibility of a hand reaching out to catch us or set us free, even if it happens in a way we couldn’t imagine.

    Sending spring blessings your way, Anne

    • I love that Robert Bly poem, Anne. I’m glad you do, too. Vic bought ‘The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for Men (1993) and found that poem in the collection. The whole collection is as much for women as men, in my opinion.

      The starling finally exhausted itself fighting gravity and fate and fell into the cold ashes of the wood stove fire box. I opened the door carefully so it wouldn’t try to escape, but it waited in the dust. I dropped a cloth over its body, held it firmly but gently, and carried it to the front porch. When I lifted the cloth, it flew strong and straight to a large tree as though it hadn’t been through a 24 hour trauma. I’m sure it was fine. I return all those same spring blessings to you with all the joys and sorrow–bird songs and ticks, flowers and caterpillars eating crabapple and oak leaves (I hope with less fury than last year), and the first milkweed shoots preparing for the arrival of Monarchs in a week or two. Enjoy the season of green.

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