I’ve reached that time in life, the middle point, when some of my beloveds have begun leaving this earth. On the basis of age alone, this will continue to happen until I one day join them. When I say “beloveds” I am referring to the people who made and make me feel loved and, who I hope, allowed me (and allow me) to make them feel loved as well. In the last three years I’ve lost three such people from my life here on earth.
Though grief has always been a companion of mine, these days she takes up more space. I bump into her more often, as if hers or my (or our) hips have gotten larger and we’re not used to taking up more space – so we jostle for it. This bumping into grief might occur from an obvious thing like a song on the radio, a scent in the air, a joke one of my beloveds and I would have shared, an opinion I’d like to have elicited. Or it can occur for no reason at all like the night recently when I finished cleaning the kitchen and, as I walked down the short hallway to the front room, I felt a need arise inside. I instinctively turned back to the kitchen to see if I could figure out what it was I needed. Had I left something unfinished? Was I hungry? Did I want food or drink just for the pleasure of it? What was needed? And then I got it. There it was – grief. I had no needs to fill, the ache inside was just grief showing up for no reason except a basic longing to be able to physically, mentally, and emotionally connect with my beloveds.
As a result of grief bumping hips with me, jostling for space, I notice I’ve been walking around feeling less loved. Preoccupied with death and dying. I think about it in the morning when I get up and at night when I get ready for bed. I think a lot about how I’m slowly losing the people who have loved me the most and that one day it could be true that no one will be left who truly, deeply loves me. It might unfold that no one will be left for whom my happiness really matters to them. I could wind up completely and utterly alone. As such I seem to have a yard stick in hand with which to measure how much love is now gone from my life.
But then I self-correct and get busy thinking better thoughts, you know, like how lucky I was to have had these recently departed beloveds in my life. Like truly, outrageously fortunate. And how truly, outrageously fortunate to still have a number of beloveds alive and in my life and us loving each other! I mean – it’s awesome how many people there are to love and be loved by!
This back and forth thinking about death and emptiness then life and fullness is like jumping back and forth between two parallel tightropes. But the life and fullness tightrope is tied between two trees, whereas the death and emptiness tightrope is attached on both ends to something covered in mist and clouds. Naturally, the mystery of where the death and emptiness tightrope leads makes it the more appealing one to travel.
Today, though, I thunk a different thought. I did so because I ran across something Byron Katie said in her book, I Need Your Love – is That True? She writes, “Most people believe that love and need are synonymous. ‘I love you, I need you’ is the hook of a thousand love songs.” The title of the book plus those two sentences made me realize that I have been walking around as if I can’t comfortably exist if those who are among the few who love me most are no longer around to fulfill my need to be loved.
So I took that idea and held it close: I can’t comfortably exist if these three who are among those who love me most are not around to fulfill my need to be loved. As I did so, I could feel that this idea was greeted by all the love inside me. The love that exists inside me all the time stirred and greeted this thought that I am less loved because three of my beloveds are gone, along with the discomfort that thought creates.
I decided to greet the Love that stirred inside and realized it consists of the love of God, the love of my husband, the love of these three beloveds who left this earth during the past three years, the love of everyone still physically in my life who love me, all the love I’ve ever been given, and all the love I’ve ever expressed and given away – all that love met this idea that something was missing because three of my beloveds died. And you know what the idea did? It laughed! It laughed a great big belly laugh, before dissolving into all that LOVE.
I thought the love others gave me was something only they could give. Which meant death could take it away. Believing that thought means I am not in touch with the love that already resides within me. This is deeper than self-love. This is about being Love. This is about God’s love in an “inter-being,” tangible way. I’ve picked up this term “inter-being” from Richard Rohr and his new book, The Divine Dance. I think inter-being as Richard uses it means I am in God and God is in me, always, and so Love is always present. Love is always available. Love is always here – right here, inside me – inside, within, around, alongside all of life!
This doesn’t magically take away grief. What it does do is it makes life, my life, bigger than the grief I’m experiencing. I say above that I’m bumping into grief more these days. I feel sort of shoved out the way by her hips. But perhaps it’s a love tap. Maybe when I bump into her I can move closer, the way I would move closer to a friend with whom I bump hips while walking together. Perhaps I can abandon both those tight ropes I mentioned and, instead, walk alongside this friend I call Grief which, in fact, may be love personified. Relax into the total experience of it and let it expand my heart and feel the love more deeply.
Instead of, “I was loved. I lost those who loved me. Now I am bereft,” isn’t there a felt sense of I was loved – beautifully loved – and I still am loved? When I say ‘I still am loved’ I’m speaking about love given and received as well as the Presence of Love within me that is even or also me – the real me. The love that resides inside truly exists in me. It isn’t dependent on someone else giving it to me. And at the same time, all my beloveds’ love still resides in me in a full and tangible way.
I began writing this essay many days ago. I can say that I seem to have experienced genuine transformation around my companion whose hips like to brush up against mine, otherwise known as grief. I still can feel hurt, confusion, and longing in regard to my three beloveds who have left this earth. And those feelings still pop up in expected and unexpected places. But when I feel happiness, joy, delight, surprise, awe, contentment, curiosity, just any positive state, I now feel the presence of their love that still and ever will bless my life. I’d say I think of them even more often now, because there is no need to withhold or tamp down joy or laughter out of a sense of respect. Rather, they are still a part of life and living and sharing love. Even with grief as a companion, I now have a sense of wholeness back because I know that Love isn’t missing from my life. Love didn’t leave me. Love is right here inside me present to it all. When I show up and be present to Love, there is fullness, even a belly laugh that knits this mortal life together. And on the subject of mortality, I’ve been giving it less thought lately too.