Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Loving Differently

This is a reflection not on romantic love, but love. 

Valentine’s Day is a time of honoring and celebrating not only the love we have for one special person, but for many people, and how we love each in a different way. You can also call this love compassion or kindness. 

In elementary school, you may have made Valentine cards for everyone in class, even for those you didn’t like much. Some cards you took extra care with, and for that special someone you liked who didn’t yet know, you added a secret, cryptic message.

Now, as adults, if someone special who held our heart has died, whether it’s a spouse, parent, child, or friend, Valentine’s Day can be a harsh reminder of our loss.

This is my Valentine’s card to you.

I love you, even though we have never met. I love you because you have suffered a terrible loss and are grieving. I know how important it is to feel love from other people, even people you don’t know.

I love you because you have loved deeply and howled for the life that has been ripped away. I love you because you valued yourself enough to get off the floor and fight back, unwilling to give in to death. I love you because, in the midst of your pain, you set this aside to show compassion to others when you saw them suffering.

I love you without strings, even though I don’t know how to do this well. And to say something like this, well, it scares me.

To love freely, without expectations from either of us, is this even possible?

In her poem “To have without holding,” Marge Piercy says learning to love differently is hard. It is difficult to love with hands wide open, to love without holding, to love and let go, again and again. I want to love like this because after people came and cared for me in the early months of my grief, they slipped away unobtrusively, their work done. My gratitude to them runs deep.

If you are reading this, then chance threw us together for a reason. Or maybe there was no chance, and no reason, just fate. Or if you don’t believe in fate and you’re not reading this, then don’t worry. It doesn’t matter why or how we connected. We are trying to keep up with love’s great demands, and we are learning to trust love again.

Love is not an illusion. It’s damn hard work. To love you requires that I open my heart to your pain. This threatens to pull me back into grief and leaves me vulnerable to my own despair again. But this is a risk I am willing to take.

It takes courage to share your grief and be vulnerable in front of others. It takes courage to allow them to help. It takes courage for them to come not knowing if what they bring will be helpful, needed, or accepted. It takes courage for you to risk loving others again.

I wish to love differently, without attachments or expectations, because there is much suffering in the world. So many people need a kind word, a moment of our listening, and nothing more than this. To know that someone else understands, that someone else has endured a similar grief, helps ease the sorrow.

This love I am speaking about is stronger than death. It continues after someone we love dies. This love burns with a blazing fire. It does not ever go out.

Love does not come prepackaged in a box. Love is a river that surges through the mountains of our lives. The more we allow love to flow where it wills, the deeper it cuts channels and canyons into our hearts, wearing away what is hard and bitter, until all that is left is love.

I wish for us to share today what each other needs.

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  1. Beautiful words. Thank you for putting Valentine's Day in a different light. Good to remember it takes courage not only to be the griever, but also to reach out, and not know how you will be received. The tears flow freely, as I read. Again.

    Thank you.

    Sheryl Selch

  2. Also wanted to say, this post is especially touching, as over the weekend, we took our annual trip to Orcas Island, this time, in honor of Martin's birthday. He would have been 50. As his birthday falls so close to Valentine's day, the 2 days flowed together for us, and one forever reminds me of the other.

    1. It's nice that the two days go together for you. I could see where one would dampen the celebration of the other. And yet, you would be remembering Martin in similar ways on both days, so, yay! But I'm sorry to hear that he didn't reach his 50th birthday. That seems like such a significant milestone in any life. My Evelyn didn't reach it either, and that still bothers me.

  3. I'll try again because my comment didn't post. Please erase this if it's a repeat. I'm grateful for this beautiful piece on love because it doesn't focus on the heart-filled romantic-love of Valentine's Day. Instead, you speak of a wider and broader love that reaches everyone and everything. I aim for this but can't always pull it off. Forever practicing.

    1. Thank you, Elaine. I think that if we start off each day with this openness of compassion for everyone, we do better, rather than waiting for some event where compassion is needed. Someone may have just needed a smile from a stranger, but we weren't focused on this yet. And on some days, when nothing is going right (burned toast, flat tire), it's harder to feel compassion for anyone, even ourselves.

  4. Best for me to begin the day with tonglen practice and create an intention to take in the suffering of all and wish for the happiness of all. If I'm in the airport and the plane is canceled or I get a rejection or something hurtful happens, I remember how many others are struggling over similar or harder issues and how we all want peace and happiness. It all helps. Little by little. The love grows.

    1. Breathe in the suffering, breathe out compassion. And the love grows. Yes.

    2. This is so lovely. I would love to bookmark and read often. Thank you. My husband passed 15 mos ago. He, too, was 49. Our Anniversary is 2/18.

    3. Thank you, Wendy. I'm so sorry to hear about your husband. And I'm sorry to hear that he died when he was 49, not that 50 would have been any better or easier to bear. To me it made a difference because 49 cries out "too soon." I hope that you are doing okay in your second year; so different from the first, yet still not what we want. I will keep you in my thoughts and heart.