The What the Heck of Sorrow

I spend time each week with a wise teacher. She specializes in the wounded, those of us dealing with injury and pain. We work on breath and mindfulness, with discovering where and what our bodies hold on to and how to let go, how to find balance, how to know ourselves. I first sought her expertise in order to better manage my Parkinson’s Disease. Her practice helps with symptoms…amazingly so. I am less crooked, much less dizzy, in significantly less pain. She has an Australian’s sense of humour, a little sarcastic, a little tart…thank goodness…and an empathetic heart. And she is smart, so smart. 

This is what I know: you can trick your mind but not your body. I learned that from her. She rephrases it in the words of one of her mentors: what the mind suppresses, the body expresses. Yup.

One week and a day after Lincoln died I went to her. She gently coached me through familiar, small movements. I was in someone else’s skin, tense and jerky. Tight. Unable to find any ease or comfort. She asked me to lie down on my back. I knew she would watch how my breath flowed in and out. She spends a lot of time just watching. I get that. I spent a lot of my working life watching five-year-olds. The watching helped me understand where they were, how they were, and what they needed from me. Watching made me a better teacher. I think it is the same for her 

I could feel it before I knew it, the crack in my being, like the hair-thin fracture in the earth’s crust that becomes a fissure, a widening crevasse, a tectonic shift, an earthquake splitting me down the middle, expressed in sobs that came from the pit of sorrow, through the layers formed in years of grieving. And I wailed and howled while she held me, without touch or words, in the safety of her presence and in that space.

There are many things that surprise me about this new life of mine

That howling surprised me. I understand what people might mean when they say “out of body”. I could no more have suppressed that cracking wide open than I could stand against the tide but, in the midst of those overwhelming waves of emotion, a dispassionate other myself quietly watched, quietly listened, astonished, a little bemused. 

What the heck?! she/I said. 

And, what the heck?! one more time when it was over, when I stood up, lighter, and stronger, back in my skin. 

I am surprised by how much I miss Lincoln. After 6 years of losing him, little by little, how can it be that I miss him so big and hard when so much of our life together was lost to me ages ago? 

What the heck?! 

I am surprised by the ordinary-ness of my days, the getting up and doing stuff, by not spending every moment dripping tears, by laughter, and forgetting to be sad, by talking aloud to him, and talking to others about him, and not talking about him, and staying on my feet and being normal in a world that feels so very odd and so very familiar at the same time.

I am surprised, almost every day, by someone who loved him, too, and what they remember, the stories they tell, the Lincoln they knew, and the sense of loss they are experiencing. It comes in emails and cards and phone calls and conversations, face to face. And the words repeat. They name him: gentle, quiet, adventurous, unique, quirky, funny, iconoclastic, determined. Loved, loved you, loved by you, loved his family, loved his friends, loved his valley, loved the outdoors, loved to play. And those who knew him best, especially through these last few years, speak and write of his smile, and his courage, and his grace. And everyone has a memory or many, a story or 10 to tell. And they don’t place him on any pedestal except the only pedestal he would ever want to be on, one formed through eons, by wind and rain and ice and snow, rocky and rough, with no easy place on which to balance, a place to teeter— a challenge, a dare. A good story if he should stay upright, a good story if should he fall. 

A book came today in the mail, sent by a friend who knows an unimaginable sorrow. It is short meditations on grief. Short is good (my mind having become a frantic gerbil). Already I have been surprised and comforted by words that better express what I struggle to say. Thorton Wilder, the preface tells me, said, “The greatest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude”. Gratitude. There’s that word again…the moments of gold…

And the first short meditation speaks of tenderness, in all its meanings, as the natural state of grief. Yesterday I spoke with a friend and used the word “tender” to describe how I felt. I am grateful to be on the same page as the writer. We all are, or will be. Right? We all wear our loss like bruises. We touch them, however tenderly, and they hurt. And they tell us that we loved.

I don’t doubt there are howling times to come and I wonder if this gets easier, ever. But if someone had told me I would get through losing him the way we did, I would have not have believed it possible, never would have believed it possible. It didn’t get easier but we, his beautiful girls and I, we got through it— whatever through means. It does not mean over. 

It is just this day, one day, and if we are lucky and oh, I am lucky, there might be a wise teacher, or a memory, or a friend. There will be breath in, breath out, breaking apart and mending. Just this day. Again and again.

What I wish for myself, I wish for you—words that comfort, hope that guides, and love to hold you in its gaze.

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