Sometimes, we need shelter from the storm. The winds of loss buffet us, leave us weak and tattered. Our emotions after loss become a storm we can barely withstand.
After my aunt died, I took shelter in Nature, and in writing. I took shelter with my dog. Or with close friends who knew I was fragile. I saw mindless movies. Read endless crime mysteries that I instantly forgot. I took shelter in sun and warmth; in solitude, and in time with my grandson. I sought shelter in counseling with a practitioner who had known the “before” me, and the “after” me, and walked with me through the journey of transition. I sought out shelter in some “soft-core” addictions – to sugar, to tv, to gardening. I sought shelter in prayers, and in silence, and in staring into space. Nothing felt better than sitting alone and watching dust motes drift in the air. I could make it through my days if I took time out to just “be.”
I think that this was an important part of making it through loss. What I had depended upon, what I had known as reality, was being deconstructed, and my body and mind needed time to catch up. I needed to come apart. I needed time to grow a new capacity to withstand the reality of grief.
The following are a couple of letters on the graces shelter brought to my life after my aunt’s death –
On this quiet New Year’s Day, I sit at the cold pond, gaze at the snow, the sky, all the sparkles of hidden frost shining in the new sun.
And think about you. No matter what else I am doing, I am missing you, holding onto you, standing at the door of the love room, waiting for you. Maybe this is just how grieving is. Maybe all of us left behind—out of habit and confusion and not knowing what else to do—keep moving forward as if something else mattered, as if everything else were real. Which, of course, is true. But the still very palpable nearness of you, and the sweet, small enclosure of the love room we share, and the impossible wrenching away of what was so bright and real, still throb at the bottom of my heart.
I am wondering why.
Perhaps I have stumbled upon some shy but piercing truth about death and life: the heart is never done. What we think is real—this journey with its beginnings and endings, its sharp turns and boundaries and walls—is just another breathing in and breathing out, not so far away from that place where you are now. Not so far away from me.
I don’t know why it is taking me so long to believe this fact, to live with the emptiness you’ve left. Maybe death, the final loss, is just so wrenchingly, terribly impossible, it takes a while to settle in, to seep down through the layers of everydayness, of all the ways we cope and move on, to finally rest on the bottom—oh, if there is a bottom!—of the truth.
You must be moving on. I might be, too. Today I felt a little thrill of edging toward relief. The coming of the first summer in almost a decade without too much to do; without taking care of you, or something of yours.
I can feel it coming. I can’t wait.
Will that offset the hole you left behind? Probably not. But I might have time, and space, to recover. To rest. To sit with the love room and see what’s left of us. To swim for a while in the so many ways I love this life even though you’re not in it anymore.