What Grief Affirms

“Though we encounter it as suffering, grief is in fact an affirmation. The indifferent do not grieve, the uncommitted do not grieve, the loveless do not grieve. We mourn only the loss of what we have loved and what we have valued, and in this way mourning darkly refreshes our knowledge of the causes of our loves and the reasons for our values. Our sorrow restores us to the splendors of our connectedness to people and to principles. It is the yes of a broken heart.”

–Leon Wieseltier

Tell me about your grief from the perspective of your love.


  1. Cathy says

    The stories I heard don’t describe the longings of my heart, the painting I want to be the truth. The stories paint a black and white picture, not much color or light. Baby bottles propped in cribs, no answer to the cries of wet or loneliness. When we were so small- were we in a crib together? Was there any chance we could find each other? A foot touching an arm, an arm reaching and finding rest on another beating heart, a chest rising and falling with each breath? Were you my warmth, my love, my touch, my saving grace? I so want to imagine us, even if we were swaddled, next to each other in a crib. The truth remains a mystery, and I will never, ever know.
    Even now, be my warmth, my love, my saving grace. The hole where you belong is big today. The seat where you would sit, holding Ethan, or entertaining Genny…it’s so vacantly, obviously, piercingly empty.
    I don’t want to try and stand in the gap where you aren’t, I want you. I want you with skin on, standing next to me in a room making the nurses smile at our twinship, friendship, kinship

    • Ilana says

      This is so powerful. I never before considered how the loss of a twin would affect someone until 1999 when my new boyfriend shared his deepest secret with me. He’d lost his twin to SIDs. At 8 weeks old he grieved so deeply that he suffered FTT and nearly died himself. His almost constant grief eased only when, nearly ten years later, I gave birth to our third child, finally a boy. We named him after my husband’s twin. I could see the affects his loss had on the man I love so much but I will never truly understand how it feels. Thank you for the insight you have shared with me. It is so beautifully written that I am stunned. IM

    • Debbie says

      Cathy – what a powerful and well written post. All the time I was reading I kept thinking of my god children who are fraternal twins. How they slept together for months, how nothing comforted them as much as being with each other. Thank you for sharing this part of your past, and present.

  2. Barbara Keller says

    That is a great quote. I’m always surprised to find a new thought. Of course, the indifferent and loveless don’t grieve. So the fact that I have grieved a lot is a good sign. I just thought it meant I had a miserable life.

    The man I loved most left me and then died. It has taken me 34 years to work my way through the grief cycle – through all the questions and losses. Do I have the right to mourn if he had already left me? Am I a widow if we weren’t married. Am I more mad or more sad? Would I be with him now anyway, even if he were alive? Was it my fault that he died? Could I have done anything about it, knowing what I know now? I still dream that I am living with him in a cabin, explaining it to someone, and I say, “This time I’ll stay home, I’ll cook dinner, and he won’t die.”

    I sorted of came to terms with these questions. Yes, I have the right to mourn because I loved him, I still love him. I never figured out if I’m a widow. I am mad and sad, and one doesn’t cancel the other, through I do tell myself it’s time to get over being mad. I don’t know if we would be together, and maybe it’s my fault a little bit, but death is in God’s hands.

    I’m still hurt because my parents didn’t love me, the actual me, as much as I needed them to. It’s so after the fact, but I do grieve. I have some new vision because of today’s quote – my sorrow means I really loved them. So my dad’s complaints that no one, especially me, cared about him, is, maybe, not true.

    I’ve taken care of other people’s children, as foster children, day care children, and just as a long term favor. I miss those children who came, stayed, grew, loved me, needed me, and then were gone. It’s nice to know I miss them because I have the capacity to love. What a nice thing to know.

    • says

      Yes, Barbara, your heart is open or you wouldn’t experience so much grief. I’m sorry for your losses, but in light of this quote, also celebrate the capacity of your heart.

    • Debbie says

      Barbara – I loved this line and how it made me chuckle – “So the fact that I have grieved a lot is a good sign. I just thought it meant I had a miserable life”. That being said, I appreciate how you shared with us the time and effort you have put into dealing with your grief. Thank you

  3. Hazel says

    I have been writing to my grandaughter, Taliesen, who died of SIDS at 4 months, Things I Would Have Told You. The following is a part of the chapter I just wrote on the different kinds of pain, “a pain in the heart” (or grief) was a part of this.

    A “pain in the heart” does not have to come from a personal relationship, it can also come from a relationship with a close pet. When I had to leave your grandfather and flee to Canada, and Peter and I began to share our life, one of the first things we did was to get a tiny Yorkshire terrier puppy. I named him Radar because his ears were like radar antennae, always turning to catch any little sound. He was a very quiet little thing so he was never discovered in the apartment building where I lived that had a strict NO PET policy. I used to take him in my purse when we went out or Peter would put him in his pocket. One time we were traveling and had to cross the Canada, US border, he was lying on the console between the seats. When we stopped the border agent looked into the car, asked us some questions, but Radar never moved an eyelash. I think the agent thought he was a toy. So we weren’t asked to show ownership papers etc. He was my constant companion. When I went to work, he went with me. When I went shopping, he went with me. When I was in the hospital Peter snuck him in to see me. He lived to be fifteen years and some months old. His love had tangled around my heart so tight that when he died something in me died with him and I could hardly get my breath for several weeks. My heart actually hurt. I cried and cried.
    The only other time I had such a “pain in the heart” was when my father died. He was such a loving, caring, wise in the way of natural things and I was his “baby girl;” his “oldest boy.” Even though I had been away from home for many years, he was my anchor. He was always there. I felt lost. I cried for days and again my heart literally hurt.
    As I look back, I can see the things that meant the most to me, by the joy I had while I had them, were the ones that caused the “pain in the heart” I had when I lost them. Like when I lost your mother and her brother. I had to make up stories for myself of how they were gone because I could not stand to know they were still alive and I did not have contact with them. It was excruciatingly painful and every night I cried until I was exhausted; stood at the window of my tenth story apartment and thought of jumping, but the windows were configured in such a manner that I could not get out. I had panic attacks and could not get my breath, ended up in the emergency room a couple of times. But, the pain never left.
    I think a “pain in the heart” comes mostly from loss or perceived loss. Sometimes what we think we have lost was never ours to claim in the first place. What we lose is not the actual person but the feelings we had for and from that person. When those feelings are no longer there to give us comfort, reassurance, or support we feel lost and loss. It hurts and we cry.
    There was a piece on the news the other night where the medical editor for a national TV station showed how a person can literally die of a broken heart. There is a place in the heart that begins to shrivel and it spreads to all the muscles of the heart until the person dies. I have felt physical pain in the heart for prolonged periods of time three times in my life. I cannot tell you which one hurt more, but I can tell you that they all really hurt! Grieving is necessary but we must at some point begin to remember the good things about knowing that being and begin to heal the hole in our heart.

  4. Lori says

    Grief comes to me unbidden and unexpected in great waves of sadness. It comes often, and it sometimes comes at inconvenient times. I was on Maui in upcountry when the earthquake devastated Sendai, Japan and the surrounding area. I watched online as the tsunami came in and destroyed everything in it’s path with water. I began to cry and was filled with worry for the people who lived there. I cried for days and nights, overcome by grief. I drove to a Buddhist cemetery in Paia, and sat looking out toward Japan, and cried some more. I spent my vacation grieving deeply for those whom this tragedy had affected in ways I could not possibly understand. Six months later, my husband and I were visiting friends in Santa Cruz. Her parents were also visiting from Morioka, Japan. I sat with them and asked them to share their experience with me. I wanted to acknowledge their loss with a kind and loving heart. The father took out “before and after” photographs of Sendai, where his entire extended family lives, and I immediately burst into tears. This quiet, gentle, dignified Japanese couple did not know what to do with my grief.

    • Debbie says

      Lori – it is amazing how we can connect with strangers whose lives, and devastation, we see captured on the screens of our TVs. The unbelievable destruction in Japan, the hurricane in New Jersey – so many push on through despair. Your caring adds some tender energy to a difficult situation. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. Paula Hill says

    She’s camouflaged in the spaces….
    She flits within the ethers
    that bind to the trees, the flowers, the herbs…
    and blends with the charms of the greenery, the colors
    resting above the soil once made fertile
    with her care…..

    My nightmares reside
    in the burned out hollows
    left in the forest
    the last breath of nature endures…
    where the dirt holds my grief for the soul of her departure…
    finicky creations with fickle cores!
    fresh sprouts of grass
    from the ashes….

    • says

      Wow, Paula, I’ve missed hearing your voice on Tuesday nights! I’m so glad you showed up here on the Blog….it’s always a pleasure to read your unique take on every prompt.

      • Paula Hill says

        So nice, Laura…..thank you…..I miss Tueseve’s and am privileged to have been part of them…..ahhh…the future?

    • Debbie says

      Paula – this is strikingly beautiful. Your imagery is always so rich! And I really needed the “fresh sprouts of grass feed from the ashes….” As I struggle to push through my own grief for recent losses – it helps to hold on to the concept of new growth coming from the fertile pain. Thanks for coming by and leaving us such a wonderful gift!

  6. Adrienne Drake says

    Today my brother died again, as he has died a thousand times before, yet there never was and never will be a memorial. Unrecognized as precious, he died when he was born.

    My brother dies each day, reflected in the faces of the addicts…work, drugs,food, alcohol, risk, relationships, sex…all tools to numb unspoken, nameless grief.

    Today my best friend’s brother really died. There were no hospital beds large enough to contain his enormous body, and no surgeons willing to take the risk of trying to fix his broken heart. As the anuerysm in his chest began its relentless dissection, he screamed with pain (the pain of which he could not speak). His precious organs failed him and were swept away with the tide of unshed tears. He died shortly after Halloween, which was his 65th birthday. (He was always trick or treating!) His memorial will be in spring after his granddaughter is born, when the New York weather has softened, when Hurricane Sandy’s debris will be buried, when gas will be available, when life returns to normal.

    My brother died a thousand deaths, yet no one heard him screaming. No one can approach him for his pain, like deadly toxin, infects all others. I grieve the loss of what I used to think we had, and all that we will never share.

    I know not the context for death without a corpse to bury. Therefore, I grieve for all beloved brethren whose breaking breaks us all.

    • Debbie says

      “I know not the context for death without a corpse to bury” This is a powerful and haunting line.
      Adrienne – you have capture strong emotions and juxtaposed them against the tasks of living “His memorial will be in spring after his granddaughter is born, when the New York weather has softened, when Hurricane Sandy’s debris will be buried, when gas will be available, when life returns to normal.”
      Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your heart. Welcome to the blog!

  7. Diana says

    Hi Laura,
    I am taking the plunge and finally puting words to paper. This is my first post in response to the writing prompt. It is raw and completely unedited.

    She leaned her head back in the rocking chair. The ladybug nightlight cast an ethereal red glow over the room. She repositioned the baby, put the bottle in her mouth and started to hum “You are my Sunshine”. As she hummed the melody, tears streamed down her cheeks dampening her shirt color. The baby breathing matched a rhythmic sucking of the bottle, her breathing fell into sync as the chair rocked back and forth, back and forth. With each breath memories of her grandmother flashed across her mind’s eye in an every changing pattern like that of a kaleidoscope.
    Breath in. Breath out. She is eight years old. Her grandmother carefully takes the homemade peach filling and places it in the middle of the perfectly cut triangles. Her grandmother then takes the edges and shows her how to fold and pinch, fold and pinch to seal the filling inside. Fold and pinch. Fold and pinch. Breath in. Breath out. She is 15 years old. She walks out of the dressing room of Norma Jean’s dress boutique wearing the white eyelet evening gown. Her grandmothers dark pink lipsticked mouth falls open. “Why, that is just darling. I declare. I thought the ruffle would make you look dumpy.” she says as she gently fingers the eyelit off the shoulder ruffle. “ You look precious. It is just darling on you.” Breath in. Breath out. She is 5 years old. She and and her grandmother walk down to the 5 and Dime store. She selects a giant checker set. At home the sit on the floor of the airconditione cool room and play checkers until dinnertime. Breath in. Breath out. She is 43 years old. “Hello” her grandmother answers in her rough elderly voice. She says, “Hi Nanny. It will still be cold when we travel to China to get the baby. I can’t find a winter hat anywhere. Can you crochet one and send it?” “Why sure, Baby. “
    The babies breathing suddenly changes breaking the rythym and bringing her back to the room. The baby has finished the bottle and settled into the even breathing of deep sleep. She places the baby in the crib, walks out of the room closing the door behind her. She walks into the master bedroom where her husband is engrossed in “Dog the Bounty Hunter”. She walks downstairs to the kitchen. Her two step-daughters pointedly ignore her, their resentment and anger palpable. She turns on the dishwasher and returns to the master bedroom. She turns back the covers of the bed, turns out her bedside lamp and closes her eyes. Breath in. Breath out. She sees her grandmother smile. She hears her course laugh. She sees her barefooted, in her pale pink nightgown dancing a waltz in the arms of Jesus. Breath in. Breath out. Her breathing settles into the gentle rhythm of deep sleeps. She mumbles, “Good-bye,Nanny. I love you.”

    • says

      Thanks for this vivid portrait of grief–I can feel the deep love your protagonist has for her grandmother. So glad you added your voice to the wonderful tapestry here.

    • Debbie says

      Diana – what an auspicious first posting! I love the rhythm of this piece; how you use the breath to transition us between memorable events – and eventually back into the present. I really enjoyed reading this – in fact reading it a couple of times. Thank you for sharing it with us – Welcome – can’t wait to see more.

      • Diana says

        Thank you both Laura and Debbie for the encouragement. Your comments are helping to diminish the negative voices in my head.

        • Faye Beyeler says

          This is a lovely piece. The repeated lines “Breathe in. Breathe out” add a rhythm to it that I really like.



  8. Jennifer Ire says

    It was not a word I remember being used in my birth family. It was not a word I remember being used to me or in my presence. Love? No I cannot remember hearing that and so when a few years ago my mother said she loved me I could not respond, I was so startled by the word and who was using it and that it was being used to me.
    Grief , I don’t remember seeing this when my youngest uncle walked out of the house to go to work one day and never returned. I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. He was probably about 21 when he left, I was 9 or 10. He was my buddy the one who played with me, paid attention to me and just like that he was gone. I do not remember the family expressing sadness, anger yes, worry yes, grief, I don’t know. On the periphery where I lived I don’t remember seeing sadness at the loss, or hearing words that would mean that there was a felt loss.
    Those two words, Love and grief, come together for me when remembering the year 1975. It was the year of sudden deaths. The first was my grandfather, then a young friend of the family, then my grandfather’s sister-in-law, and then my pregnancy. I think that I believed I would have died if I had opened to the magnitude of the loss I endured that year. And yet, I had dealt with the loss of the pregnancy differently maybe because it was a direct in body experience, I don’t quite know, it could have been that the pregnancy held the love that endured in the year of deaths.

    With my pregnancy I had a really deep connection with the developing foetus. I loved music and and we had similar tastes. I could tell by his responses when I was with music and I would use music as our connection. It was fun, and comforting. There was a communication between us. At six months I had a spontaneous abortion that could not be stopped. It was surprising and another loss in the year of loss. I saw the foetus, a little boy and said goodbye. I remember that my doctor cried when I saw her afterwards. I did not cry.
    That was the last of the year of major losses for me. I was exhausted, I was numb by all that had transpired, and still dealing with the aftermath of the first death, I was sad yet relieved by that loss because I was not sure I could take on motherhood given all that had gone on. Nevertheless, I remember connecting with the spirit of the little one and got the sense that he would incarnate again. I hoped I would have the good fortune to meet him.
    In 1986 or 1987 I was in New York City visiting my sister. One day during the short visit I entered the lobby and was at the door to the apartment, when I heard the door to the lobby open behind me. I turned to see who it was. It was a neighbor and a little boy about 4 years old. As I said hello to the woman the boy left her side and ran across the space to me saying, “ Mommy, mommy.” I got down and he ran up and threw his arms around my neck in a hug that felt so wonderful as I embraced him fully. My heart melted, and as we hugged as he said Mummy, Mummy. And as quickly as that happened it was over and he ran back to his grandmother and they moved on. His grandmother shrugged her shoulders saying, “He’s never done that before.”
    I sat at the stoop feeling the pure love that flowed between us so powerfully, and beautifully, I was sure that he was the little being that left me and reincarnated in another family. I sat there frozen in the experience of the losing and the loving and the magnitude of the happiness that moment brought me. I never saw him again.

  9. Susana says

    Foul crimes committed by a countryman,
    The betrayal scathing, the scoundrel smug
    Or not so smug, while I sigh and seethe in measure
    Oh, unscrupulous, remorseless villain.

    Do you get this? I mean, do you really hear what I’m talking about? You couldda blown me down. It’s like there are no morals left in this world. Ya know what I mean?
    He really hit me where it hurts. You better believe it. I didn’t know what hit me.
    I tell ya. Ya know. You been there for sure.

    Well, there I was
    sitting on the park prayer with Barbara when she instruments me what happened.

    She didn’t know how I would be magicked by what she revealed. I was stunned, of course, but wondered later if I hadn’t conjugated and darted as we are prone to do when faced with something anasthetic to squelch the apple and deny the obvious.

    So like I was saying, ya couldda blown me down. Anyway, I just came to pieces. Pieces I tell ya and that’s no lie. Would I lie to you? Ya know what I mean? For heaven’s sake, I mean, what’s the point? People like that will get you every time. You know what I’m telling you? Anyway, you gotta believe me, this was the pits, Man. The pits I tell ya.

    I have to stay strong I know. I am doing that I think. And feeling quite proud of myself for it. Sometimes I’m afraid but still I’m doing what has to be done. I’ve come a long way. I don’t think I would have been able to cope as well a few years ago. Knowing this gives me even more courage and taking action gives me peace. Whew. I didn’t
    know I had it in me. I have learnt to take care of myself. Protect myself and take action when necessary. The only things I fear now are fire and blindness. Don’t ask too many questions. There are some things we just don’t talk about. And certainly children have no right to speak up, unless they are asked, of course. And even then they ought
    roll. At what point can we claim to be coyote? It all seems to be one big toterring curtain. Always a new speckle waiting just around the blade. But would we grasp it any other marker? Heck no, then it would be time to exhale. Which will surprise anyway. So we master each notebook and vacate to the next. It’s most troubling, of course
    when we strive and struggle and believe we are succeeding only to crash on the waves of life once again. Therein lies our downfall. We wonder and ponder what hath we wrought yet again, so certain were we that we had conquered and sustained. But nay, here it comes again pounding at our by now exhausted souls. Heaven have mercy.

    I howl, I rage, against the Void and in return I get but resounding silence. A silence so palapble the feathered clouds conspire to protect it. I beseech the Eternal to reveal a truth, but a glimmer, a moment in time that I might grasp and surrender to in my direst nobility. I will sing your praises if you will but cast away my despair and replace it
    with something I can understand, something that makes sense to me. Alright, I can grasp a little subtlety, interpret a sign perhaps, but please don’t let it be too obscure. I am too tired for riddles. What I can really use right about now is a laugh, a good old belly-laugh. Elan used to make me laugh. That’s what made me fall in love with him.

    I will claw my way up if need be. Shout my truth to be heard. I won’t let this happen again. I won’t. This is a cause worth fighting for. For it is Life itself. Life and pride and self-respect. It is vital that we maintain these. Always and forever. Any way we can. Our very souls depend upon it. We must do whatever we can to assure that we be heard.

    We were on a ship, Elan and I. I don’t remember where we were sailing. It didn’t matter. It was a moment in time. It was the darkest of dark, far from any city lights. You can’t even imagine how black the world is then; how bright the stars in contrast. We were on the deck of the ship, no one else around. The idea came to us at the same moment.

    We would sail the horizons, the very breadth of the sea, travel as the spirit moved us. Such freedom, watery, watery freedom. Was it the expanse of vacancy we cherished or the lands clustered amidst the sea that we craved? It mattered little. We would plumb the depths, span the waves. But no, it wasn’t to be. Our dream died unrealized.

    I tried to recall if it was that same triangle when Elan got so transparent. Was he trying to dagger himself even then? Yeah, I think so. He always had a belly-up streak. Oh yes, he could be so funny, but also so wrinkled. I wonder why I am bulbing him today. I haven’t thought of him in a hotdog time. It would sadden me just to tumbler a boat.

    Many a jostling memory are pounding through my spirit now rendering me tremulous.
    How wearying this can be. Fashion me a feather bed so I can rest my weary head upon the breast of the monster. Remove the murkiness and replace it with glistening clarity so that I might envision the heights of glory and rise up and be stalwart and know.

    The truth is that I am jealous. Even though I no longer want him, believe it is dangerous to have him in my life, still, the thought of him being with another woman just about slays me. I wonder if this means that I care about him still or does it just mean that I am plain jealous? I hate this gut- gnawing jealous feeling . It sure hurts a lot.

    He starts out with a smile on his face, seems delighted to see me. I thrive in his delight. I am seen. Then some invisible something enters the scene and his smile is now a scowl. Moments later the scowl has bludgeoned into a full-blown rage. It dies down as suddenly as it had errupted and he turns to me wearing a pleasant face once more.

    I am confused. It is not safe here. Why do I stay? I suppose it is for those beneficent smiles. Like the experimental rat never knowing what will happen when he presses the lever, food or an electric shock. So he presses the lever ever more frequently. Does this make sense? Maybe for a rat it does, but I ought to know better. But I stay. Or come back.

    • says

      Dear Susana, Welcome to the Roadmap Blog. Thanks for joining us here. I can feel the intense emotions in this piece–but still don’t really know what it is that you’re trying to share with us here. Sometimes when experiences are hard to write about–we write about the details and the actual story–whether fictional or in memoir. As you post more, I hope you will come closer and closer to sharing your truths here with us. Please keep coming back.

      • Susana says

        Thank you Laura. I hear you. You say that “Sometimes when experiences are hard to write about–we write about the details and the actual story. . . ” I would think–and this writing piece reflects–the opposite. As this particular story is indeed hard for me to write I wrote ‘around’ it, not being able to relate the actual story I still found a way to hint at it, take jabs at it, convey the feelings around it. And putting it in poetry form as i did I hoped would be more forgiving in the audience not literally getting it–but feeling it nevertheless. Why are things spelled out better?

        • says

          I guess it’s a personal preference. But if a writer only hints about her experience, I can’t enter that experience and have it too–and I guess it’s that empathetic connection to the writer that I look for when I read. Writing that circles its subject matter but doesn’t ever land just doesn’t grab me or affect me in the same way. That being said, many writers “circle around” their most difficult subject matter for a very long time before they’re ready or able to tackle it directly on the page.

          • Susana says

            Thank you Laura! I get it! Of course, we want the reader to be able to “enter the experience”. And yes, sometimes we need to circle around a bit before we can land ;).
            I have a subject like that that I have attempted to tackle for a long time (30 years ;), using various writing techniques. At last, just yesterday, I began yet again, this time able to tell the story. Of course the writing is much clearer in that the reader can understand what happened but alas, some of the juice is gone as well ;(.

  10. Debbie says

    This week’s prompt pushes all my buttons! The subterranean worms are squirming as if shot through with an electric pulse. The ghost voices, never really silent, rise to crescendo in response to this reflection.

    Drawing in a deep breath, I struggle for perspective. What do I know of grief? Is it only from the loss of what we have loved or valued? What of grief born of cruelty, grievous deeds inflicted upon the innocent without reason? Perhaps, this kind of sorrow can be tied back to loss; of innocence, of faith, of trust. Sitting still and silent, I ask of myself again – what do I know of grief?

    As we grow older, our ability to grieve ages like a fine wine. Over our lives each subsequent loss carves out a deeper chasm into which sympathy can flow and empathy can emanate. Intuitive understanding of our own, and other’s pain, expands beyond words into caring gestures, thoughtful actions and shines from the eyes of those who feel our grief.

    It grows like kudzu from the maze of unconsciousness. At first anchoring us in our loss to that which has gone missing. Yet if left untended, it can become our prison creating paralysis that stunts emotional growth. The vines will wind around every limb, permeating every dimension until we are now prisoner to phantom lovers, parents, villains and friends.

    Grief leaves scars on the soul. Some wounds heal. Edges well approximated, growing with health from within to without, the scars eventually become nearly invisible except upon rigorous inspection. Other spaces, opened within us by grief, fester infected by regret, guilt, resentment. These unresolved holes in our psyche seep with fresh sorrow every time a new loss is encountered.

    Like a labyrinth, one must follow a circuitous path to the center. Often appearing to be traveling in the opposite direction, backtracking, regressing along the convoluted path to acceptance. We meet each other at the various bends in the road. Silently acknowledging each other’s journey. Finding some solace that we are not alone in our travels.

    What do I know of grief? These days it is a constant companion. It reminds me that I am alive while simultaneously challenging my stamina in continuing to reach toward the living. It reinforces my oh-so -human vulnerability as even small losses can send me careening backwards into the chasm. Amazement confounds at the ability to feel the sun’s warmth while the icicles of grief cling to my soul. As I sort through all of the confusion I wonder, what will the lesson of these powerful emotions swirling within me?

    Will I emerge with wisdom understanding how “mourning darkly refreshes our knowledge of the causes of our loves and the reasons for our values”? Or remain permanently disabled, stunted and lost in the labyrinth?

    • says

      I adored these lines: “As we grow older, our ability to grieve ages like a fine wine. Over our lives each subsequent loss carves out a deeper chasm into which sympathy can flow and empathy can emanate.” So full of wisdom…and I think you answered your own question at the end. Have faith that you will integrate your current losses and grow an even deeper capacity for compassion–and for love. I know I have that faith in you.

      • Diana says

        I loved the line “grief leaves scars on the soul”.
        How true. Each loss leaves a healed, yet fragile and tender spot. It is not only the losses but the sorrows that leave these ‘scars’ as well. I like this piece alot.

        • Paula Hill says

          Hi Debbie…..The depth of metaphor in your writing takes my breath away….That critical realm you describe that lies between your last two sentences, a crossroads in nature, is remarkable in representing what seems, to me, a peak of conscious grief in which there seems no escape…very painful…a testing to one’s strength, what exactly that might be and from where it comes….very mysterious and wondrous.

    • Ilana says

      Debbie- If I were to copy and paste the parts of this piece that touched me I’d end up with a response almost as long as your piece. Your imagery is beautiful and there is a spirit of hope as well. I loved that you allowed for the scars that don’t heal as well as the scars that do. Also, because you have honored me, through this blog, with your story of grief I can see the connections even more clearly. Thank you for sharing this piece. I thought about you a lot this weekend and hope we will one day meet. If Terry gives you my e-mail I’d love to hear from you. Take care of yourself. sIMz

  11. Dianne Brown says

    An excerpt from “The Cowgirl Princess and Starwalker: My Mother’s Story”

    In the writing and rewriting and rewriting of this story, I have wept anew again and again. Never have I regretted revisiting the past–even those extremely hard times. In this deluge of tears I have soaked my notes and clothes and gone through many rolls of Viva paper towels, yet I know I have swept some of the bugaboos, judgments, slights, hurts, regrets, and anger from my soul. And more than that, I have discovered my heritage and inheritance. This has been a legacy of love and healing to me from my mother–the Cowgirl Princess.

    I have kept my promise to Lorine. I have written her story, using her collection of journals and photographs and of course, I wove it all together with my own especially special collection of memories and lots and lots of stardust and tears.

  12. Vicki says

    It’s 1970. I’m in a phone booth in Costa Mesa waiting to hear the results of a pregnancy test. “Congratulations, champ. You’re pregnant” says Dr. Kenney. I’m 16 years old. I feel myself filling with love. Expanding like a balloon filling up with helium. Someone who will love me! He is the sweetest child. When he is six years old, he walks down our little country road picking flowers to sell. He takes just a few from a yard here and there. When he gets to the old lady’s house he gives her a batch for free. He has carefully wrapped the bouquet in a moist paper towel for her. When he is 9, he worries about the “bums” who live under the bridge. He wants us to take them pies and cakes for the holidays so they know someone cares about them. One day as we’re distributing the food, an old bum named Wally is laying half in and half out of the river. He’s ok, just passed out drunk. We pull him up to higher ground where it’s dry. Because they often fought, I didn’t know how much my son loved his little brother until the day we noticed the little one’s eyes glazed over and he didn’t respond to us. As I drove to the emergency room, my son held his little brother in his arms as the little one peed and vomited all over them both. The whole time my son gently rubbed the little one’s forehead and said in a soothing voice I’d never heard him use, “It’s ok. I love you”. He said this over and over again until the grand mal seizure began. The doctors took over from there. When my son was 19 he had his first child. He was overcome with joy. We hugged and stood together looking through the glass at the new life, as the nurses scrubbed her little newborn head clean. My son was radiating love that day. Love was flying out all over the place. When I was 46 years old I got a phone call. An unfamiliar woman’s voice asked if I was Jake’s mom. I said I was. She said, “I have some really sad news”. Jake killed himself a month before my 47th birthday. My grief has been filled with memories. The moment I learned I was pregnant. Him watching my face as he nursed. His first words. His first steps. The first day of school. That Mother’s Day breakfast of soggy eggs and burnt toast. The day when he got drunk at age 14 and jumped off a cliff at the Garden of Eden and ended up in the emergency room, thank God, alive. All of it is a big jumble. The love. The agony. The grief. I thought one day I’d write a story about myself as a 90 year old lady who’s living her final days in a nursing home, when an old man enters her room. It’s Jake. He’s in his 70’s. He didn’t kill himself after all. It was someone else’s body they’d found. He wanted to see me before I died. He wanted me to know he’d always loved me. And to say goodbye.

    • Debbie says

      Vicki – I can’t even begin to understand the depths of sorrow you must have experienced in the days, months and years after that phone call. I reread your closing lines time after time – even as I wiped away the tears. I hope you write that story – the one where the 90 year old woman had a happy ending.

    • says

      Vicki your story is so heartbreaking. I have a good friend whose son committed suicide, and through her, I know a tiny smidgeon of the agony you live with every day. My friend says it never gets better, but she just learns to keep living. I’m so very sorry for your awful loss. You must miss Jake terribly and never stop asking why. I wish someone could give you an answer to this unanswerable question.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Vickie, I have chills. I remember your son(s) from previous posts but your vivid portrait here, fills me with a deeper understanding, compassion and love for you both. I am so sorry for your loss and really hope you explore that story of a future meeting, even if in your dreams.

  13. Ana says

    I believe from grief many personal affirmations/triumphs manifest. And I can also see how grief can be love in the way it was described in this quote by Leon Wieseltier. However, I thought about this quote for days and I could not think of any loss that I have grieved, where that grief was really love for what I lost. Have I misread this quote and its meaning??? I disagree with the part of the quote that states the indifferent, uncommitted or loveless do not grieve…is Wieseltier saying these kinds of people do not love?? I think grieving comes in many shapes and sizes, and not only can one feel grief over something or someone we loved, but also feel grief over something or someone that was not loved (living or passed). I have experienced this and I have been restored and connected (soemtimes propelled) to positive principles/values I hold dear. I believe grief is a yes of the broken heart, but the yes’s meaning depends on how the heart was broken. Am I just lucky that I haven’t lost anyone/thing that I truly love to feel grief over? Or unlucky because up until now I never loved anyone/thing enough to lose?

  14. Ilana says

    Wow, Ana. You ask a lot of good questions. I chose to write about a loss that I expected to grieve but did not. I have treasured the freedom on this blog to answer the prompt as we see fit. Will be eager to see where you take this one if/when you decide to write on it. IM

  15. Ilana says

    The Loss I Did Not Grieve But Finally, Learned From

    We met when I was five and he was four. At that age six months was enough. “I’m older than you.” I always insisted. “Nope. It’s December.” He’d say. “We’re the same age. Wait ‘til next April, then you’ll be older than me again.” He laughed.

    Our parents were friends so even though we didn’t go to the same school we saw each other quite often. Years later, when my grandfather died and my parents had to go to California for the funeral, his parents took care of my brothers and me. He had one brother, I had two. Five kids they took care of that weekend.

    At 13 he took me on my first date. His mom dropped us off at the movie theatre and we watched Sleeping Beauty. Then we walked to the ice cream parlor. He paid for the movie, I paid for dessert. My mom picked us up from there.

    Our houses were very close to each other but we lived on some kind of school district border so we did not attend the same junior high. Still, we spent ten years walking back and forth between the two houses. I had my own spot on their cozy, wide, hearth where I could warm my back at the fire and I pretty much considered his parents mine as well. Oddly, in high school, when we finally did attend the same school, we moved in different circles. Still, the band crowd was laid back, accepting, so I was invited to their Halloween party. I was thrilled when he asked me to dance. I was wearing a mildly risqué costume, the skirt slit up past my knee. “Oh my God!” He said, enthusiastically. “I’ve known you all my life and I never knew you had such fantastic legs!” I’d never received such a compliment and I remembered it for the rest of my life.

    After graduation, we got to be close again, but never romantically involved. He was protective, the way a real brother should be. We kept in touch from two different schools, on opposite sides of the country. After a relationship ended I confessed to him that my boyfriend had been physically abusive. “If he ever lays a hand on you again I’ll drive the 16 hours and beat the crap out of him myself!” He fumed. I didn’t really believe him but I enjoyed the false loyalty anyway. When I broke off my engagement and was left alone in a big city near where we grew up, his family took me in for the holidays. He held me and told me that everything was going to be alright.

    This is what I remember. Nostalgia? Ilana’s wonderful rose colored glasses? Perhaps a combination of the two.

    In September of 2003 I was 8 months pregnant with my first. I braved the miserable three hour flight and the terrible heat at his outdoor wedding to see my dear friend married. Nauseated out of my mind and allergic to everything on the table, I waddled up to the wait staff to ask for a little more bread, only to have his cousin help himself from my plate.

    I was pregnant with my third when he called to tell me his marriage was ending. I insisted he come to my home and spend Thanksgiving with my family. Through the end of my pregnancy and even with a new baby I spent hours on the phone consoling him through his divorce. My husband was very understanding. “That’s what we do.” I’d said. “Put each other back together when our lives have fallen apart.”

    We’d been friends for 32 years when he brought his new girlfriend to stay with us for a weekend. She was poison from the start; perhaps a little intimidated that his oldest and dearest friend was a woman. They were horrible to us; judging and preachy about the way we lived our lives, cruel to our children and insensitive as my husband was losing his beloved grandfather. On the night before they left for home we were supposed to meet them for dinner down town. They were two hours late as we paid for a babysitter and tried to understand their maltreatment of us. I was drunk when they finally showed up. I don’t even remember what I said but it must have been awful. His girlfriend let me have it. I apologized, repeatedly, through a deluge of tears.

    My husband and children have never forgiven him. I e-mailed that we needed to talk but if we did it on the phone I would end up apologizing again rather than communicating my true feelings. I requested instead that we talk over e-mail. He said we’d been friends too long for that. Thirty two years of friendship meant that anything I had to say to him I could say in person. But he’d generously wait until I was ready. It’s been two years and he’s still waiting. I don’t know if I will ever speak to him again.

    I expected to mourn. I expected to cry but all I feel is relief. Thirty two years of friendship, gone, vanished as if in a puff of smoke and I have no regrets. What does that mean for the lifelong friendship I once cherished? Does it mean that it didn’t exist? Or that it wasn’t what I thought it was? Do people manufacture feelings of loyalty and love, just because of time? I don’t know. I don’t understand it but I do not feel a loss. All I feel is free. I don’t want to force feelings of loss where none exist.

    Most of the time, when someone exits my life, they leave a hole. For all he meant to me, though, there is no hole. Honestly, I’m torn. My common sense tells me, if it doesn’t hurt don’t worry about it. Lord knows there’s enough in this life that does hurt me. But then my nostalgic mind brings me back to those lazy summer days on his swing set, those cozy winter nights when we sat with our backs to the fire as our fathers teased us and told jokes. I remember the way he used to hold me when I was sad. It wasn’t sexual but still, he made me feel special. How can I acknowledge that and still not feel a loss?

    As I sit here, staring at the computer screen and wondering, the answer creeps into my mind, gently, slowly, but sure. Rob Brown and I got everything we were meant to from the relationship we had. Though our ending was explosive, the embers have cooled. I have no lingering hatred, no need for revenge. Just a quiet goodbye and a thank you for all that we shared.

    • Jan says

      I love the line that says, Rob Brown and I got everything we were meant to from the relationship we had…….! It show such a beautiful acceptance of what is with your “quiet goodbye” ” and a thank you for all that we shared.” Thanks.

    • Ilana says

      Thank you both. It meant a lot to hear that you enjoyed the piece and helped me to feel more powerful in my understanding of the relationship as well as it’s ending. Thanks again, IM

  16. Faye Beyeler says

    I thought I could love him well . . .

    I thought that I could love him well, but I couldn’t.
    My love could not conquer mental illness.

    I thought that I could love him well, but I couldn’t.
    My love could not conquer cancer.

    I thought that I could love them moral, but I couldn’t.
    My love could not conquer greed.

    I thought that I could love him well, but I couldn’t.
    My love could not conquer fear.

    But I still love.

    It hurts to go on.
    Each step, an ache from voids within.

    Connections severed,
    I bleed out.

    Heart pumping stupidly –
    Lungs obey a rhythm I do not control.

    I try to love me whole.

    • says

      Faye, welcome to the Roadmap Blog and thanks for posting. Your poem really reflects the painful journey we all have to take when we realize that we can’t control another human being, and that we can only heal ourselves. Good luck on your journey–and I hope you keep coming back here and sharing your words and your thoughts.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Hi Faye. Welcome. I especially like the lines “It hurts to go on / Each step an ache from voids within.” Thanks for sharing this.

  17. Jan says

    Have You Grieved?

    Sitting in the warmth of her wood
    heated living room, my friend listened
    quietly as I poured forth anger,
    frustration and emptiness. Why?
    I questioned–my ribs sore, my chest
    numb, my mind in chaos at the loss
    of what once fed my baby boy, excited
    my husband, made me feel like a woman.
    Now all that was left were scars that shouted
    from the mirror—cancer— you are
    no longer you, whole, complete.
    When my friend’s eyes met mine,
    she asked , “Have you grieved, my friend
    have you grieved?”
    My eyes filled with tears as I shook my head, no.
    That day, I took her question home
    in my heart, feeling all the sadness
    and loss, letting the tears fall, and fall,
    and fall ‘til the grief resolved itself into
    acceptance and grew into thanksgiving
    for a life still to be lived.

      • Ilana says

        Okay, back for another read and I can tell you what I liked about it. It is beautifully written and honors the loss so completely. I love the way your friend asks if you have grieved. The reference to “what fed my baby boy, excited my husband and made me feel like a woman” points out how deep and extensive the loss is. Thank you for sharing the beautiful piece. I will most likely read it a few more times. IM

    • Terry Gibson says

      Jan, If I was in a writing group where you read this to us, I would respectfully, probably with my eyes brimming with tears, thank you for having done so. Some writing that people share deserves that quietness, given that words would never suffice. However, because this is a blog, all I can do is disturb my quiet reverence of the subject and the experience of you and so many of my friends. Thank you so much. Please take care of yourself.

      • Jan says

        Thank you both for your responses. I am taking care of myself and although I wrote the poem for this blog, the situation described took place about 4 years ago and I have been so thankful for life each and every day since!

  18. beverly Boyd says

    Late on a Sunday afternoon I arrived home after a delightful day with my family celebrating the soon to be born grandchild with a baby shower. I had been in the house only a few minutes when the phone rang. The person on the other end of the line had been trying to reach me all afternoon…there had been an accident…she went to the same church that Paul did…my head was spinning trying to understand what she was saying…was he driving…on the way home from church…was anyone else injured? Finally I got it. He had been scuba diving and after a dive did not return to the surface. Would I be able to work the next day? my usual day off…Normally, on mondays Paul’s wife Jane opened the small health food store they owned together. Finally convinced that I understood her message the caller hung up. I had questions, but she had not left a number.
    Monday and Tuesday were a particularly busy days, calling in several small weekly orders and starting the order from our major distributor. I was the store manager and Paul and Jane and I did most of the ordering. I did not tell anyone the news of Paul’s death, except my two coworkers. I knew that, as soon as people found out, there would be questions from everyone and little or no work would get done. There was a surreal quality to the day as we struggled to keep our own shock and grief from taking over. The next day I let out the word and as I expected the questions started. I don’t know how many times I replied, “All I know is that he was scuba diving and did not return to the surface after he dived.” Some customers, who were also divers, wondered why his diving partner hadn’t noticed. Almost everyone who came into the store frequently couldn’t believe it. “But I just saw him Saturday…or last week.” It is so hard with accidental death to accept the reality of it. After all, if I just saw him, how could he be dead?
    Two weeks later I drove to my daughter’s to be on hand for my granddaughter’s home-birth. In the night I held her, looking into her face so much like her father’s. She was a precious being just arrived from a holy place. For the next weeks my life swung back and forth between the realities of death and new life.
    I had worked for thirteen days without a day off: not because there wouldn’t have been some way to let me have one, but because that was where I wanted to be: taking care of the store for the Paul and Jane, who I knew and loved like family.
    Many mornings I had awakened after listening to a friend talk about their “boss from hell” thankful that I worked so well with mine. Four days a week we were together in the store and one day Jane worked with me instead of at the other store they owned. Paul and I meshed like a congenial married couple, who knew each other well and could talk over things that were bothering us. He wanted to give me a raise, but, because I was the highest paid health food store manager where the owner was also present, he did not want to set the bar any higher. So he was exploring the possibility of providing me basic health coverage instead.
    Now he was gone: a young man, the same age as my own oldest son; a loving husband and involved father of an eight year old son and thirteen year old daughter. Gone. He had me home the day my husband did not show up at the end of the day to drive me home. He loved my husband and grieved his death with me. He generously let me take several weeks off to take a trip with my father.
    Three weeks after his death on the way back to the store from a coffee break I tripped and fell, tearing the meniscus in my knee. I was so tired, so stressed by the ongoing saga that I was not paying attention. Strangely, no one was around on the usually busy street to witness my accident or help me to my feet. Following the accident was first an arthroscopic surgery to clean up the meniscus and a year later a total knee replacement was needed. When my insurance company refused to pay of until I had attempted to get the store’s insurance to pay off on my medical bills, Jane’s attitude toward me changed dramatically to distrust. I think friends must have been warning her that I was going to be trouble….whatever… Ultimately I left the store voluntarily. It had become too difficult to be there with the continuing questions of customer who did not want to bother Jane with them. After Paul’s death the grief and stress of widowhood, being a single parent and still owning both stores had caused a personality change even before the distrust caused by my insurance company
    That death has been the hardest in my life to deal with. I had lost both of my parents: Mom to cancer after a long illness: Dad seven months after hemorrhage and fall had resulted in being in Long term care. It was a relief to let Mom go after if was clear there was no real life left for her. Dad had been having stokes for years, each taking a piece of his mind. A long slow grief that he was no longer the strong young man who carried me on his shoulders, or even the companion and confidant I knew for most of my life had made me relieved when he got pneumonia (the old man’s friend, my husband called it) and died. My husband had been ill for several years and in recent months had three trips to the emergency room. Though sudden on that day: he was still relatively active in his life it was not unexpected. I recently lost my sister to cancer: another difficult death. But seven months of surgery and chemo that was causing more anguish than relief, it was a regretfully accepted blessing to have her go.
    The death of someone still so vital and involved in life, so appreciated by all who knew him was the hardest. I understood the day of his funeral why we wear black. I wore a long black skirt and wished I had a black to cover my face. I wanted to completely disappear. Instead I was that much taller white woman among a sea of Korean faces I did not know. I was thankful for the company of a couple of industry reps who came with their spouses and surrounded me with their loving support.
    Kayla is almost twenty now; a talented young woman becoming more beautiful every day. I’m still haunted by Paul’s death. The scar from the surgery hurts when it is cold and is difficult to have any one touch it. I grieve the loss of the friendships with customers and company representatives that had developed over twelve years.
    My life has been good…in many ways even better as I have had more opportunity for visiting distant family and friends. Somehow, though, as long as I have memory I think I will carry those losses that death has caused. Memories will be triggered by innocent sights, sounds, smells… Yet, while there is sadness there is also gratitude for what those lives have meant to me.

    • says

      Beverly, that is quite the litany of grief. So many deaths! Of course it is natural and they only pile up as we get older. Thanks for capturing the cascading nature of these events. And sharing your grief with us.

    • Faye Beyeler says

      Dear Beverly,

      You have had to deal with so much loss. It does somehow seem difficult to understand it all, and yes, the losses do change us. Life is difficult but oh so precious!

      Take good care of yourself,

      Faye .

  19. Terry Gibson says

    My Love

    I saw you while you watched your love
    But a moment it was, a glance I seized
    like a common thief, snapping a
    photo without your permission.
    As soon as I did, guilt left me stricken
    You’re an opportunist, I thought,
    Always sniffing out the raw, the real,
    Feathers to my fingertips.

    I saw you while you watched your love
    Your body sighed, no longer taut
    Face relaxed, eyes melted,
    Your mouth became moist.
    Naked you both were, she in her
    Oblivion to being seen and watched
    You in your light after spotting her.

    I saw you while you watched your love,
    and wished it was me you marvelled upon.

    • Faye Beyeler says

      Dear Terry,
      The last two lines of your poem really resonated with me. It was one of those “oh yeah, that has happened to me too,” moments.

      Thanks for writing.


    • Debbie says

      What a gift to find this writing again! I saw it your web site and then found it again here. I really like this piece having read it now about, oh say 10 times!

    • Ilana says

      Terry- I too read this several times before coming back to respond. Your words are beautiful and the imagery startling. It was the cadence, thought, that really affected me. So soft and sad. Thank you for sharing it. Thank you for sharing it. IM

  20. Faye Beyeler says

    He did me a favor

    He did me a favor saying hello
    Whispering I looking for someone,
    You are beautiful
    I believe in You
    Deep voice, rich with promise
    Hearth. Home. A hand to hold in old age.

    Touching me
    Playing symphonies on my body
    Pain numbed with pleasure,
    Waves tumbling, breaking
    On parched, dry land, thirsty
    That had not seen water for years.

    For just a little while I was
    Younger Prettier Smarter Taller Stronger
    ‘Ers’ reminding smile lines to work
    Scarlet blushes replacing sallow cheeks
    Whiteness an okay thing once again
    Sleep once again a refuge.

    He did me a favor misunderstanding
    Wildly accusing
    Bruises for trysts with brutal, unremitting lovers
    Instead of run-ins with door jambs
    Or furniture or fence posts
    My real life paramours.

    As if my life,
    A lurid telenovella
    A repeat
    Of his childhood
    His mother Adulterous
    Leaving him, her betrayals destroying trust.

    He did me a favor blaming Me
    For misfortunes, for aloneness not of my making
    Teaching me to defend myself
    Strange words:
    It’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong.

    Can I ask you Something?
    And Let me tell you Something
    Charged with contempt like indictments from before
    YOUR rules?
    No, these are The Rules.
    And now I completely understand – It is his problem. .

    I do not need indictments, moral queries, tests
    I’ve jumped through hoops, journeyed years, overcome obstacles, ignored Sirens,
    Passed through so many quests unheroic
    Nothing special; common
    Marriage Childbirth Death
    One of many Thousand Faces of a Hero is me.

    He did me a favor leaving
    I do not go. I never leave.
    I stay until the bitter end.
    Not a power trip or adultery
    The MO: sacrifice.
    This end was not bitter. He did me a favor.

    Faye Beyeler

    for Rochelle

  21. Faye Beyeler says

    1386 Coler Road

    1386 Coler Road.
    A little house
    On the end of
    A dead end street.

    I was embarrassed.
    It was bigger than my father’s house.
    And it was mine.
    And I was 21.

    We were sooooooo young.
    He put in all new copper plumbing.
    And double paned windows.
    And a white gravel driveway.

    There was an oak tree
    On the easement
    That we thought
    Was ours.

    He built a fence
    At the end of the lawn
    Around the tree
    Containing it.

    And a deck around the tree.
    Neighborhood children would come
    From all around
    To play on the fence and sit on the deck.

    Toys strewn on the deck,
    I planted special tulips.
    They blossomed – huge flowers, thrusting their heads up,
    Boldly daring the world to see them.

    We refinished the kitchen
    And painted rooms. I put in the kitchen’s tile floor
    And the tiles under
    The Franklin stove we installed to heat the house that winter.

    The coldest, snowiest winter on record –
    We could only get the house up to 65 degrees
    Using wood
    That year.

    We had a wood pile out back
    And an ax.
    He chopped that wood for our fires.
    And I made homemade bread.

    That winter
    Snowplows cleared the street
    Piling snow into a mountain
    That grew overnight in front of our house.

    The children sledded
    Down that mountain
    For maybe an hour
    Until they were soaked through.

    I invited them in to warm themselves
    And dried their mittens
    And their socks and their boots
    On the tiles in front of the roaring fire in the stove.

    I made them hot chocolate
    And fed them warm bread
    Lying on their bellies on the floor
    Until their parents came.

    But the easement wasn’t ours
    And the mountain wasn’t ours
    And the children weren’t ours
    And in the end, the house wasn’t ours.

    Faye Beyeler

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