One of the saddest most heartbreaking things I have both experienced and witnessed in my own life is how being in pain or suffering pain can lead to disconnection, right at the time we or others most need it. I shared in a recent post about a friend who I contacted who had lost her Mum a few months ago, she was feeling happy and supported in her pain. I felt a knife pain all through my heart when I read her reply, that is not what happened when my father died many years ago. As a result I buried a lot of my pain and acted it out and I have shared about that elsewhere in my blog. I also think the loss of my father that lay ungrieved led me to doubt his love due to his emotional distance which was more about his own past than about how he felt about me deep down inside.
Today I was overcome with happiness at finding a wonderful book at my local library written by a man who lost his wife and fell into the most profound grief. Rather than run from his grief he fully surrendered to and embraced it using this deep process of undoing as a doorway to enter into depths of his humanity and soul in a way that would never have been possible before his loss.
In the book he makes the point that it was through experiencing a psychic ‘orphaned’ state that he came to realise that the pain and abandonment of his orphan self could lead him to the angel within who helped him cross the threshold of pain over his loss to an ever deeper and deepening sense of love, connection and compassion with life and the cosmos. He was able to fully enter both his mourning and grief and through active reverie, paying attention to soul cues, including a book case that collapsed twice in the months following his wife’s death he was able to read these messages and respond, rather than resist. You would need to read his painfully beautiful memoir to be able to understand the depths of insight and soul he navigated.
For the purposes of this blog I am just going to quote from some of the more eloquent and heartfelt insights he shares in the early part of his book. I am only midway through the book but really feel it is a book I would love to give to anyone struggling with grief following the death of a loved one. Grief and love are really one and the same. Once we realise that essential truth we wont be led astray by those who try to have us believe grieving for ‘too long’ is some kind of pathology or aberration, rather than a testament of how deeply loved and cherished our lost or absent loved one is. Even if the one we lost was not loving to us and we longed for their love, the pain and grief over that still runs very, very deep and if we run from it, there are problems we will face as the denied soul truth tries to get our attention.
The name of the book is The Soul in Grief : Love, Death and Transformation, and it is written by Robert Romanyshyn. I believe that those who suffer grief are the ones we need to turn to in our own grief as they know more than the ‘experts’ or others who may in their own fear of the feelings of powerlessness watching someone grieve or struggle with grief respond in unproductive ways that further hurt or alienate that person.
Individually and collectively we fear grief and are impatient with it. Everything in our culture is aimed at hurrying us through the process. In the midst of loss I was encouraged by well meaning and good intentioned friends to get back in the swing of things. I was told “life goes on”. Staying in the land of grief too long I was, I believe, something of an embarrassment or a threat. I was a walking ghost, an invisible shade, an empty shell with a broken heart. I was a companion of death, and to my friends, a too painful reminder of its presence in the midst of life. Better, then, I was advised, to let the dead bury the dead. Better to forget the loss.
The soul, however, has its own rituals of grieving, rituals which plunged me into the organic rhythms of nature. Loss is a season of the soul – its winter – and, like the winter of the world, a moment whose time must have its place. I could neither hurry nor avoid these rhythms of soul any more than I could hurry or ignore those of the world. In this landscape (of grief)… there are no map, no markers to plot the course of grief. I was forced to find my own way.
But there were stories to accompany me along the path, tales told by those who had returned from the land of grief and who had brought with them an account of their travels… they were testimonials that told me, while I had to find my own way through grief, I was not alone. ….
In moments of rest, I felt that my personal grief intersected with a collective one. On these occasions I lost myself in a kind of reverie. Time would slip away, and for a while, the boundaries between myself and the world, were erased, easing somewhat the cold feeling of isolation which grief brings. In reverie, before these warming fires, I could hear those other voices whispering that grief arises, because we have dared to love, that grief is the mark of the power of love, to love even when we know life is loss, to love even thought we knowthose whom we love will one day pass away.
My tales… are a testimony to (this) descent from the early shock of grief into the black holes of mourning and, at times, the unexpected opening into that quiet sadness of melancholy, where I felt a sense of belonging to others, where a new feeling of hope would emerge, only to be swallowed by a darkness even blacker than before.
Grief is a wound which leaves a scar, and that scar is forever etched in the fabric of of the soul… grief lies in the very marrow of our bones… (and) in the deepest recesses of the heart we are all orphans and that orphan in each of us carries our shared, collective sense of human sorrow.
Not all of us in our lives will be put in touch with our inner orphan. In my own life my inner orphan was a very early experience and once that had collective roots. Being given a name for this very deep and archetypal of human experiences and a reminder of it in reading Robert’s book I am aware of how knowing that such a psychic or psychological energy informs our life and experience at archetypal levels is helpful in some way. It provides a context for an experience that is deeply human and spiritual and not only pathological as society would have us believe.
Our inner orphan can lead us to an inner angel, that one who holds the orphan’s hand through deep experiences of physical and emotional abandonment, an inner guide or witness who mysteriously appears in our darkest hours and can hold us as we cry and help us to contain the pain of our orphaned, lost or grief filled state.
In grief, the heart’s song is one of sorrow, a song of lament. Maybe the Angel is especially receptive to us in our moments of pain and sorrow, in our moments of loss and grief. Maybe that is why it seems to me that the Angel is the other face of the Orphan…. The Angel waits to escort us into a realm which I can only describe as one of cosmological connectedness, into that place where even in that early moment of grief I felt connected with and held by forces beyond the human realm.
Robert’s experience in his time of grief mirrored my own. In the dark days of my grieving in Glastonbury I went to the Cathedral and acquired some beautiful angel icons cards which still lie dotted around my home in little nooks and crannies. At that time of deepest grief it was to those angels that I turned. Later I found the loving presence in my own heart but it was not always constant.
I do believe that grief when deeply felt and engaged with as a necessary (if unwanted) soul season, does transport us to a different realm or underworld that those who have never grieved or suffered the pain of loss will ever fully understand. That is why when we are grieving we need to find those companions who understand that place, even if we have to travel there many years alone. There are those out there who have gone before us and can give us hope that in time we will return, fundamentally changed, deepened and enriched at the level of our soul.