Slow down and listen: Acknowledging the big painful grief

Mar 10, 2023

When you lose someone you love,

Your life becomes strange,

The ground beneath you becomes fragile,

Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;

And some dead echo drags your voice down

Where words have no confidence

Your heart has grown heavy with loss;

And though this loss has wounded others too,

No one knows what has been taken from you

When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret

For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;

Again inside the fullness of life,

Until the moment breaks

And you are thrown back

Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,

You are able to function well

Until in the middle of work or encounter,

Suddenly with no warning,

You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.

All you can depend on now is that

Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.

More than you, it knows its way

And will find the right time

To pull and pull the rope of grief

Until that coiled hill of tears

Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance

With the invisible form of your departed;

And when the work of grief is done,

The wound of loss will heal

And you will have learned

To wean your eyes

From that gap in the air

And be able to enter the hearth

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return

All the time.

-John O'Donohue

There were all of these wonderful funny stories told to me in the therapy room. There was a constant barrage of teasing between them. She hid his stuff. He called her a name. The energy was intense and they lived in a big beautiful way.

Now he is gone with only a few weeks' notice. She sinks into a deep depression. She sleeps on the couch. She doesn't want to wake up in the morning. There is a fog in her brain. She wakes up thinking maybe it didn't happen and reaches for him. Is she going crazy? She wants to run away.  She wants to get away from the pain. Who wouldn’t?

What should I say? Does she need advice on how to live this life?  She is ashamed. It feels desperate.  People tell her she needs to get himself together for the children. If not, something terrible is going to happen. There is lots of anxiety in the air. 

In therapy we bring him into the room.  The only way to get through this is to go through the darkness. I ask her about the very worst parts. We sit in my office and do EMDR around the worst parts. Its not fun. We joke about her coming in to get “beat up” but something is shifting. I feel her lightening week over week. As the pain lightens she is better able to do some of the tasks of grieving. She is better able to care for those she loves. I am happy for her. 

John O’Donohue describes this situation so well in this poem. Death has changed things but this was a big love and the relationship must continue in a new way.  It is hard to let any change happen because on our way we have to deal with this big black hole of pain in loss. In order to be able to handle it the pain has to be faced gradually; titrated. It needs to be taken into another relationship so it can be softened. Then the relationship with this wonderful vibrant person who is gone can gradually change into what it needs to be. The grip can lighten. Reality can be faced. Because pain can now be tolerated Love can be remembered. One foot is placed in front of the other. 

Paul , Mar 10, 2023