Every Wednesday

Every other Wednesday, I will post a reflection on the entire landscape of grief. This blog isn't just for widowers. It's for everyone who grieves. I want to encourage people to share their stories and compassion with each other, build up a community of support, and help those who have never grieved understand the trauma that death brings.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Is Grief a Room or the House?


             What is the most devastating loss we can experience? Is it the death of a parent, spouse or partner, child, pet, or best friend? Or is it the loss of a marriage, the destruction of a wilderness, belief in our self-worth, or trust that our society will do the right thing? 

 

One of Suzanne Roberts’s friends said that ‘grief used to be one room in the house, but after their son died, grief was the only room.’

 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Place Without Boundaries


 The death of someone close pulls us out of our normal life and throws us into a place that exists between the world of the living and the world of the dead. We feel alone and isolated by the trauma. People don’t understand the importance of the words we haltingly speak. We feel detached from everything we have known and trusted, and abandoned in a place without any familiar landmarks. We feel hollowed out, like the Clothespin giant sequoia in Yosemite whose center was burned out by a fire, yet continued to live. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

When Death Comes


 

When we fail to protect our people, and death comes,


every community should pause with its grief,

society should close its businesses, stop all its normal activities, 

and come together for a day to collectively grieve,

 

to mourn with our hearts, and not just with words,

to acknowledge our failures and mistakes,

to gather the wounded and hurting and console them,

 

to say that what happened was wrong and that what we did wasn't enough,

to take the necessary steps to prevent this from ever happening again,

and resolve that it never will.

 

                        Mark Liebenow

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Finding Refuge from a Broken Heart



             In the first months after the death of a loved one, grief walks with our hearts 24 hours a day. Often it confronts us and says “Pay attention.” Throughout the first year our hearts feel heavy, battered, drained, and it’s hard to care about much of anything. 

            When the pounding on our hearts becomes too much, and our friends are frustrated trying to answer our questions that have no answers, where do we find refuge? Movies, sports, yoga?

 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Sharing a Cup of Tea


             Each year we set out full of good intentions and resolutions. We set up plans for self improvement, with ideas and strategies for what we can do every day to make ourselves better (physically, mentally, spiritually). Take them with a pinch of salt. Rather than create a list of 20 things that you have to do every day (which I did for almost a year and ended up improved but more miserable than happy), resolve to do what nourishes you.

 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Music to Grieve By

 


            There’s a soundtrack for the movie of our grief. In the beginning of grief, there were certain songs that we played over and over to hold ourselves together, to comfort us, remember, and cry. Our playlist changed over the months as we felt the need for encouragement, inspiration, and challenge. And there are those specific songs that turn us into a slobbering, blubbering mess even long after we have pieced our life back together. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Is There No Death?


             On anniversaries of death, we are faced with a choice, especially if our loved ones died more than a year ago. We can’t just say that it was great knowing them and move on, because we are still attached to the beauty and light that we saw in them. We also can’t give up on life and just mourn, because each day of life is precious. We learned this when our loved ones fought to live one more day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Widewe

 


When you lose a spouse or partner, there’s a term. You’re either a widow or widower. “Widow” comes from the Old English widewe, which has an Indo-European root meaning ‘be empty.’ 

 

It’s comparable to the Sanskrit vidh that means ‘to be destitute,’ and the Latin viduus that means ‘bereft. Each definition adds to our understanding of the experience, and they indicate that there is not one word to describe how it feels to lose a mate that we dearly love.

 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Grief Is a Wild Place

    


       
  Grief is a wild place.

 

            We like the idea of the wilderness because it’s unknown, and because what we know isn’t enough to calm our monkey minds. We need to believe that there is more to life than what we perceive on the surface, and the wilderness spurs our imagination—of primal fears, yes, but also of beauty, hope, and transcendence.

 

Grief is a wilderness. An ocean. A desert. A dark forest.

 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

How to Write About Grief


Writing about our grief is like wading into a mosh pit. There’s a lot of jumping and shoving going on, and it’s hard to describe everything we’re experiencing.


Writing in a journal each day helps us figure out what is going on, and keeps us working with grief. Isak Dinesen said that when we can put our trauma on paper, then it can live there instead of inside us. 

 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Colors of Our Heart



            

I found the heart-shaped, gray stone on the beach in Washington State. How did the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean carve a rock into a heart? And why? 

 

            The heart is an important image for the grief community because it speaks of the emotional connections we had with our loved one. We miss their presence, touch, and feeling their heartbeat when we held them close. So we notice the shape of hearts everywhere—in leaves, the pattern of rust on the head of a bolt, but especially when they appear in the clouds because those seem like a message to us from the Beyond.

 

Can we live so that all the colors of our heart are seen?

 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Leavings

 


            Few of us look forward to change. We like routine and comfort. Yet over the course of our life, we will leave many places and people, and they will leave us. The reasons will be varied—new jobs, marriage, wanderlust, and sometimes what drew us together was one mutual interest, and when that had run its course, we drifted apart. Sometimes we simply sense that there is more waiting for us.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Rolling the Stone


 



There are stones we put in our pockets to remind us of where our life has turned, as well as of the times it has surprised us. “Well, today was certainly a Stone to remember!”

 

There are question stones that we hold in our hands, turn them over, and ponder the what ifs, the maybes, the perhaps. 

 

When someone dies, Caroline Fish says, grief can feel heavy, like a boulder, and at other times it seems more like a pebble, a pebble that we will carry with us always.

 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Come to the Table


            We come to the table where every suffering heart has a place. We share our stories of being shattered and lost, and talk of the stillness of our days and the erosion of dreams in the long drift of night. We weep by the rivers of Babylon as we remember our dead and the terrible, sad beauty of love.


We come to the table to nourish one another. We have had our fill of struggle and despair. We share what we have with each other, and pass faith from hand to hand. In holy giving and receiving, we bear witness to the communion of sacrifice and grace.

 

We come to the table to say to each other that in the midst of despair there is hope. That where we are broken, there is mending. That where we are angry, there is reconciliation. We come in compassion to bring courage to each other for the challenges that lie ahead, and to learn how to live in community together. 

 

                                                            Mark Liebenow, Christmas 2021

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Winter's Light


 (We are currently in the middle of Christmastide, the liturgical season that runs from Christmas Eve to Epiphany Eve on January 5th.)

 

            When the year’s shadows are heaviest, when nights become long and cold, and feelings of self-doubt, despair, and death draw close, we light candles to push back the darkness that surrounds us. The flickering flames invite us to slow our busyness, set aside our fears, and open to everything that exists in this moment. 

 

            The twinkling of the stars, the bonfires in the backyard, and the strands of holiday lights on houses in our neighborhood remind us of people we loved who’ve died, dreams we tenaciously hang on to, and mentors whose wise guidance continues to help us find our way through life. The lights call us to reclaim the passions that stir our hearts with visions and imbue our lives with hope. 

 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Home for the Holidays


           No matter what holiday we celebrate at this time of year, our memories of being HOME for it are probably similar.

            The idea of going HOME for the holidays fills us with warm images, of sleigh bells and dreidels, of lattes and latkes, of Hallmark moments complete with snow, ice skating, and houses with glowing lights. If we live in a warmer climate, Santa might wear shorts, and holiday lights are strung in palm trees instead of spruce.

 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Burial, Cremation, or the Water Way

 






What the Undertaker Knows

 

There’s an area between dying and grieving that we don’t think about much, partially because it doesn’t last long, but also because we’re squeamish about dead bodies and what to do with them. If we pay funeral directors a lot of money to take care of all the arrangements, then we don’t even have to see the body. This is the problem. In our ongoing denial of death, we can pretend that they’ve just moved somewhere else.

 

One of the reasons we don’t make funeral decisions ahead of time, and where our loved one will rest for all eternity, is that we don’t want to give up hope when someone is dying.

 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Finding the Thanks in Hard Times


Thanksgiving is next week. If you have lost someone close, you may not feel thankful for much of anything. The year that my Evelyn died, Thanksgiving was a dirge, and although I gathered with her family and shared a meal together, I couldn’t wait to get home and not talk about how empty and devastated life felt. 

As the seasons change and many of our activities move indoors, if there is nothing else, we can give thanks for this slower time, for longer talks with friends, and for trees that remind us that our lives are rooted in something strong, fertile, and enduring.

 

In the next week, if you notice something that you can do to help someone, even something small, like holding the door open, or sharing a plate of cookies, do so. It can make their day bearable. We often don’t know how hard life is for others because we don’t like to burden others with our suffering. 

 

I continue to be thankful for the fellowship and encouragement that goes on in grief communities and other communities of support. Something that Jahana wrote inspired me to write this:

 

We come to the table where every broken heart has a place. We pass love from hand to hand, share our stories of being shattered, lost, and lifted up by the compassion of others. We talk of the stillness of our days and the dissolution of dreams in the long drift of nights.

 

We come to the table to nourish one another and feast on love. We have had our fill of death. Body of life broken. Blood of life spilled. The joy we once celebrated gone. We share what we have with each other, yet we weep by the rivers of Babylon because we remember the terrible, sad, beauty of love. In holy giving and receiving, we bear witness to the communion of all who grieve.

 

We come to the table to say to each other that in the midst of despair there is hope. We come to affirm that as we share where we are broken, grace is present and mends our wounds. We come to give each other courage for the hard journey and the wonders that lie ahead. 

 

We are not alone.

 

                                                                                                                Mark

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Finding a Why to Live

 


          Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’ Nietzsche

 

            Nietzsche gets down to the brass tacks for grievers. When someone central to our life dies, and it feels like there is nothing left, we need to find a why to want to continue on. We can continue to breathe, eat, and sleep for a long time, lumbering like a zombie through our days, but to feel zest and energy for life again, we need to find something that makes us eager to get out of bed in the morning.

 

            Creating new dreams without our loved one in it is daunting.

 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Halloween: Our Day of the Dead


   




          Halloween! It’s that time of year when we have meaningful discussions about death and talk about the people we’ve lost. If only.

            You have probably bought all the candy that you think you’ll need (eaten some, had to buy more), and maybe put pumpkins and a bale of straw by your front door. Perhaps you’ve been working on sparkling costumes that express your fantasies or deny and deflect your fears. Originally known as All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween is the first of three days for memory, honor, and prayer on the Christian calendar. All Saints Day is on November 1, followed by All Souls Day on November 2.