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An invitation from Megan Devine, our friend and colleague at Refuge in Grief:

WHEN TIME PASSES TOO FAST (& THEY DIDN’T DIE ‘LAST YEAR’ ANYMORE)

Somehow, it already feels like the end of January. The new year has only just begun, but it already feels like time is moving too fast. The passage of time really gets to you inside grief. One thing about the New Year I’d forgotten until I was speaking with a client is how, once the year turns over, you can no longer say, “they died last year.”

If your person died in 2016, you can no longer answer the question, “how long ago?” by saying “they died last year.” Somehow, that makes them feel even further away. It also plays into that idea that enough time has passed since your loss happened, so you should be “better” by now.

These ideas we have about how long grief lasts – they’re so entirely wrong. Because we have a cultural belief system that says grief should be over once you’ve passed that first year mark, most people (including some grievers) think you should be back to normal once that “year of firsts” is done.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, year two can be even harder than the first, or differently hard. And when you turn that corner, when you can no longer say “this time last year,” or “they died last year” – it makes it all that more difficult to convey to others how much this loss still hurts.

That cultural belief doesn’t just mis-inform those who want to support people they love. It also makes grieving people think they’re somehow failing at grief if they still feel sad in year two. Or year three. Or four. Because we don’t openly talk about grief in this culture, we have a flawed view of what it’s really like. Because we don’t openly talk about grief, we don’t know what’s “normal.” We don’t know how to care for ourselves, or each other.

If your person died in 2016, you can no longer answer the question, 'how long ago?' by saying 'they died last year.' Somehow, that makes them feel even further away. 

My book goes into this cultural mis-understanding in detail, and I love conversations about a sweeping grief revolution. But there’s something even more powerful that will change how we understand grief – and that’s your stories. When we start telling the truth about grief, things change. I often say that writers change the world. Stories change the world.

Have you seen our new grief love stories campaign on Instagram? We started by sharing love stories from the Writing Your Grief community, and now, I want to extend the invitation to you. We share a new grief love story every day. We’d love to tell the world about who you’ve lost, and who you are. All the information is at this link, which is where you can submit your story.

And if you’d like to learn more about how to help a grieving friend or family member, be sure to check out this overview page for support people. It will direct you to some of the most useful helper content on the site. It’s a great place to begin.

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Thank you for that, Marty, I've shared it on another site with a lot of people facing this point in their journey (I gave you credit and of course Megan Devine for writing it).

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From Mark Liebenow via Widower's Grief:

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dark Night of Grief

 
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Part One: Shattered Illusions
 
Many people feel uncomfortable when they’re alone in the darkness, even when they’re standing in their own yard and watching the stars at midnight. It’s as if the darkness can’t be trusted and this is where nasty creatures live. Like Thomas Merton, I find presence and solace watching the stars in the dark hours before dawn. This is when words of inspiration come, and meditation deepens.
 
With grief, however, when the darkness lingered and dawn did not come, I began to feel uneasy.
 
In his book, A Hell of Mercy, Tim Farrington speaks of darkness and the liminal space that swirls us through despair, depression, melancholia, and, sometimes, spiritual growth.
 
There is a long dark night in grief’s journey. It’s not the same as St. John’s dark night of the soul, although they can dovetail. When our life is shattered, when all we have known and believed lies scattered on the floor, it is then that we are open to new dimensions of reality.
 
Because of grief (or some other traumatic event), we find ourselves in a place that can be described as an extended night, as if we have been tossed into the dark winter months of the Arctic Circle where there is no light for months, and only brief glimmers on the distant horizon that quickly disappear. We feel lost, unable to move or get out, with a lethargy that dogs our heels day after day. This edge of despair can linger inside us for years, because we have lived beyond what can be seen.
 
When grief comes, it comes as an avalanche that sweeps away our sources of strength and places of refuge. It dampens the lights that have guided us, leaving the world clothed in dark shadows. Grief strips away many of the illusions we have pasted over life to soften its harshness and make it more palatable. Grief brings clarity of sight. We awaken to reality, both its suffering and its compassion.
 
Grief will challenge our faith to its core, no matter what religious tradition we follow, especially if this is the first death of someone close. It will pull down the belief that if we are faithful, if we keep our part of the bargain, then life will return the favor and we will be happy. While the darkness around us can lead to spiritual growth, it doesn’t automatically lead into St. John’s dark night. That is a step further and, as Tim Farrington says, this is not a step we choose.
 
When death comes to someone we love, a spiritual darkness often settles over us because many religions no longer speak of how to care for someone who is grieving, or how to cope with an out-of-order death. A sudden death. A death due to the violence of others. And because there are no signposts we can grab to hold ourselves in place, we may lose our grip on faith and slide into despair.
 
When we first enter grief’s dark place, we try everything we know to get out. We work harder and longer. We read profound books, and stuff positive thoughts into our pockets and ears. But there comes a point when we realize that nothing we do is working because we still feel broken. It is then that we let go of trying to deflect the pain, let go of our egos, and let grief and God guide us where they will. When we are feeling battered and lost, it is agonizingly difficult to do nothing but wait in the darkness for something unknown to come. But we do, because we have to.
 
Tim: “Grief will never go away, if we’re really paying attention. It’s part of being awake; we love, and we lose those we love to the erosions of time, sickness, and death…. To lose a loved one is to be called to come to genuine terms with that loss, or risk losing touch with that in us which loved.”
 
In time, rather than try to resurrect our old life out of the broken pieces of the past, we begin to create a new life, using what we are discovering about reality and ourselves. We find others in the darkness who are also grieving. As we share, a new community forms, and we help each other bear the sorrow. We are learning the language of the dark landscape, and finding the strength to endure. No longer are we afraid of the darkness or the unknown.
 
Grief’s dark night reveals that only love is important, because love opens our hearts in compassion to ourselves and to others.
 
            *
In Parts 2 and 3, I will talk about Brené Brown and Mirabai Starr.
 
I have written about the dark world of grief before. These are the links:                  
 
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Dark Night of the Soul is one of my favorite of the classics.  I like the night, it's then that things are still and quiet.  Maybe I'm contemplative, but I find solace in it.

Thank you for sharing this 

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I BELIEVE HOPE IS FOUND

From the book: Hitch Your Hope to a Star, by Nan Zastrow

I believe hope is found in:

• saying yes instead of no;

• loving the concept of living; dying can wait.

• turning the sad memories, to stories of the living soul;

• forgiving the unforgivable, not planning for revenge;

• counting your blessings; not your challenges;

• mending relationships instead of replacing them;

• saying, “I’ll always remember”, not “I’ll never stop missing you;”

• getting up, instead of laying down;

• giving in gracefully, when you have nothing to gain;

• letting go, when you can’t change the outcome;

• looking for the miracle; not just waiting for it to happen;

• strengthening your spiritual self, not being angry at God for your lack of faith;

• counting your steps forward; not the ones that sometimes drift back;

• saying, “what next?” instead of “why me?

Hope begins your journey. Believe in it. Trust in it. Imagine it. Feel the energy

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I don't think these have been shared yet. I read these two articles recently and found them helpful. 

 

The Grief Chronicles: The Washington Post interviewed several local people who experienced loss in the past year. It shows how different people handle grief and I thought it was very relatable. 

Understanding Grief: The author reviews two books about grief and talks about their own experience.  I ordered Megan Devine's book, It's Okay That You're Not Okay (Devine is also quoted a few posts before this.)

A line I liked from the article:

"Just as we all love others in our own unique ways, so do we mourn their loss in ways that cannot be fit into a single mold or even a dozen different molds. "

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@Firedragon I don't know if you've seen this or not but we have a list of books for grief here (scroll to top of page):

 

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Widower's Grief   

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Never Goes Away

 
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We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.  Proust
 
In my early days of grief, as I searched through books looking for answers to what had ripped my life apart, I noticed that Rainer Maria Rilke and Washington Irving had different opinions about grief.
 
Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, writes that we carry sadness around for too long instead of letting it pass. He says that sadness brings something new into our lives so we should let go of the sadness and pay attention to what is in the shadows waiting to be explored: “A stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”
 
Irving takes a different stance, feeling that we already try to put every sorrow behind us as quickly as we can. Except one—the sorrow that we rightly have over the death of someone we love: “this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude.” 
 
Then there’s Proust and his talk of healing. Who’s right? 
 
All of them are partially right and partially wrong, at least in my experience. I love Rilke for the mystery and the challenge of his words, and I appreciate his focus on living in the present, which I neglected to do quite often before Ev died. But he is too utilitarian in saying that what is past is past, so let it go and focus only on today as if memories and grief had no value. I also don’t like the brooding of Irving because this suggests that we should stew in our emotions. 
 
As for Proust, if what he said is applied to grief, then it’s wrong. Grief is not a wound that needs to be healed. Grief is also not an illness like the cold or flu that we have to put up with until it goes away on its own because it won’t. We need to deal with our grief if we are going to move on with our lives. We need to let ourselves feel our emotions and to feel them for as long as they last, then let them go when we’re ready. We don’t need to incubate them, nor should we push them away. 
 
The sad, yet amazingly wonderful thing about grief is that it is never going to go away. Bear with me on this for a moment. I hear you mumbling.
 
Grief is tied to love for our spouse, child, parent, or friend. We don’t ever want to forget how they rescued, nurtured, challenged, frustrated, and invigorated us, and we don’t want to forget how deeply we loved them. The only way that grief will disappear is for us to forget them, and we don’t want to do this. Grief binds us to the people we loved.
 
Another amazingly wonderful thing is that because we were so closely connected to another person, and still are, in a different way, we are connected to others, too. We need them to help us stay alive, and then, when we are ready, we need them to accompany us back to the land of the living.
 
“All people are broken, in their need for one another.” Amy Fusselman
 
Although it is hard, grief is not something to fear. Grief is the journey we take from a life that has blown up to a place where we construct a new one. Grief is our companion as we hike over the mountains, through the desert, and along the rain-swept shore of the ocean. 
 
Listen to your grief. Neither run from it nor wallow.
 
Posted by Mark Liebenow at 6:17 AM 
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"The sad, yet amazingly wonderful thing about grief is that it is never going to go away."

"we don’t want to forget how deeply we loved them. The only way that grief will disappear is for us to forget them, and we don’t want to do this. Grief binds us to the people we loved."

 

Wise words indeed Anne.  I always felt myself embracing grief for it simply affirmed how much I love Kathy. I know I always shall so the grief is my companion. It travels with me and visits when I am still. Has it softened in time? Certainly.  It doesn't take away the loss or the missing but rather comforts me in some odd way. Given enough time we settle into knowing how our lives will be. Here I stand deeply in love with Patty and yet very much in love with Kathy. It is an odyssey for sure and what I find most interesting is how my insight to death and loss has grown because of it. I have a love and best friend to talk to every night about the hurt and the missing. I could never be where I am now if I was not in a place to share our pain. Patty gives me great insight almost as if she were more along on her grief's journey than I. Perhaps she is. She is an extraordinary woman. She brings courage to the room.

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This article appeared in a paper that my friend writes for and I asked her if she would send me the part that I found most helpful hoping that some of the ideas might help others. This is what she sent so I could share it with our forum:

Living Well, Dying Well  (Published in Voice of the River Valley, July-2018)

 So what happens when someone experiences a significant loss and cannot bring themselves to deal with the pain of that loss? Instead, they distract themselves, keep far too busy with just about anything and run as fast as they can from the tears, pain, anger, frustration, fears, triggers and even trauma.

My experience working with the bereaved for well over 45 years and of dealing with my own string of significant losses, including my husband, is that one cannot bury their feelings without paying a price. I am not suggesting that everyone grieves the same way. That is very far from the truth and actually is impossible. Grief is as unique as a fingerprint. It depends on the people involved, the quality of the relationship, the history they shared, circumstances and so much more. But if grief is buried, it is buried alive and prevents us ultimately from feeling much of anything...we dissociate in many instances from our feelings and ourselves. And when we do that, we prevent joy and creativity from existing. Not a good move.

So what do grief counselors mean when they say  "do your grief work" or "deal with your grief"? They are suggesting you use these or other tools.

1. Let yourself feel your pain; cry your tears alone if you need to cry or with a friend or counselor. Some people do not cry. Be yourself. But do not deny tears.

2. Share your pain with trusted friends or family....safe people who will not judge you or try to fix you. There is nothing to fix. You are not broken. Grief is normal.

3. Educate yourself about grief. Read current literature on the subject. This great site managed by a friend and colleague has many resources: www.griefhealingblog.com  

4. Distract yourself every day with a job, hobby, friends etc. Live your life.

5. Join a well moderated online group (www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com is one I used and helped moderate).

6. Practice self-compassion and self-care. Eat well, exercise, meditate, drink water.

7. Journal your feelings, write letters to your beloved and then write back as if you were that person.

8. Get professional help if you need it from a grief counselor trained and current on the subject.

9. Avoid those who say hurtful things no matter how well-intentioned they are.

10. This one is for you to identify.

Creating time each day to do some or all of the above will help you work your way through this labyrinth. Grief does not end. The only way that can happen is if you totally forget the person you love and miss never existed. Grief, however, does ease up as you practice some of these steps. Time does not heal. What you do with time can heal. People have sought me out for counseling 20 years after a loss because they suppressed it and it reared its head.

Keep in mind that our joy is as deep and rich as our grief. Deny the grief and you deny joy.

Mary Friedel-Hunt MA CSW CBC is a Clinical Social Worker (license retired in 2018) and certified bereavement counselor. She can be reached at mfriedelhunt@charter.net; P.O. Box 1036, Spring Green, WI 53588; or  www.PersonalGrowthandGriefSupportCenter.com

ps - thanks, Marty, I was about to correct those two links and saw that you gave the correct ones.💕

 

 

 

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Thank you, Anne!  I value everything I've seen of Mary's writing.  I'm going to share this with my grief support group next time as we have some new ones beginning and I find the content very apt.

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Widower's Grief  

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Metabolism of Grief

 
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Grief is an organic, biological process.
 
Someone on Twitter used the phrase “metabolize grief.” I think. I haven’t been able to find who said it. Maybe my brain just took a leap. Whatever. I like the possibilities as if I’m cracking open something important open and peeking inside.
 
When we hear the word “metabolism,” we may think first about weight loss — as in, someone has gained weight because they have a slow metabolism. 
 
Metabolism is the chemical process that converts food into energy for our bodies. It also fosters cellular respiration through oxidation, waste elimination, and helps the body adapt to changes in its environment. The process occurs in the mitochondria in our cells, those tiny internal combustion engines. Curious creatures, mitochondria originated outside the human body but now live inside us in a symbiotic relationship. 
 
“Metabolism” is a Greek word for “change,” which is fitting because everything living is constantly changing, including us.
 
As the body metabolizes food and converts it into energy, so the heart metabolizes grief.
 
The experience of grief is so enormous that it can seem like nothing is happening for a long time. Six weeks after my wife died, I felt that I wasn’t getting a handle on the grief thing, so I headed to Yosemite to shake things up and get grief moving. Hiking in the wilderness where you can die will do this. 
 
One morning I stood by a river trying to determine if snow melting in the highlands was making the water rise. I stared at the water but could not tell. I put a stick into the sand at the edge of the water and watched. In 15 minutes, the water had moved an inch past the stick. There was movement. I simply couldn’t see it. Just like grief.
 
We can also think of grief as the wood for a campfire. As we deal with grief, we burn it up and generate energy and power that we can use to cook a meal and keep warm. Later, when the fire has died down, we poke the coals and become reflective. We look at the forest around us and at the stars above and think about life, relationships, and the deep heartache when someone we love dies. We think about our personal cosmos and begin to see the web of connections between our constellations.
 
Metabolism is cause for optimism. When we metabolize grief, we break it down into its elements. We take what nourishes us and leave behind the husks of the rest.
 
There is also a social metabolism to grief, although it’s currently more of a sluggish inertia. If we were able to share our grief in public, we would process grief faster because other people would act as catalysts. Instead of struggling to get them to listen, they would help us work our way through grief. And if we saw the different ways that people grieve, then we wouldn’t feel like the rhino at every dinner party and social event.
 
Metabolize grief as it comes. 
 
Today’s grief is today’s grief. Make no judgment about it. It is what it is. Work with it.
 
Breathe into the grief you feel in this moment (oxidize it), and exhale. Breathe in fresh energy and breathe out what is burned up. With each breath, we are changing our bodies. 
 
When we breathe life into our grief, we breathe death out.
 
Share stories of your loved ones with others who knew them. Breathe life back into your memories. Let them bring you joy again. Even though progress may seem agonizingly slow, each day we are breathing our way through grief. 
 
When today is over, let it go. Tomorrow will have enough grief of its own.
 
Posted by Mark Liebenow at 6:18 AM
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This really touched me...another article from Widower's Grief by Mark Liebenow.

 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What We Grieve

 
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Our Astonishing Light
 
We do not grieve the memories of our spouses who died. Surprised? Me, too. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed with a profound loneliness that we grieve everything. Meanwhile, the rest of the world goes on without noticing.
 
What I realized today is that while the memories of our loved ones may pull us down into sorrow, the memories themselves remain what they were — happy if they were good memories, and sad if they were unpleasant. But we don’t grieve them. 
 
I’m not talking about the traumatic, visual memories we have of the day our loved ones died because those are different animals — they torment and pummel us. What I’m talking about are the memories of everyday life, the ordinary interactions on ordinary days.
 
We do grieve the loss of our special person because everything they were — their personalities, humor, strength, tenderness, physical presence, and touch — are missing from this moment, this lonely, empty, cavernous moment when we desperately want them to be here, and would give anything if they could, if only for a moment. 
 
We also grieve our loss of vision for the future, because what we imagined our lives were going to be like with this person by our side has been snatched away. Even if we were sketchy on the details of what we’d be doing in ten, twenty and thirty years down the road, not having this to look forward to takes the wind out of our sails.
 
We also grieve our loss of place, because we no longer know where we belong. Our home may feel like just a place where we eat, sleep, and shower before we go back to work. Our invitations to the gatherings of married friends or friends with children drop off.
 
We grieve our loss of settledness because we had the life that we wanted. We hadn’t reached all of our dreams, and there were still some bugs to work out in our relationship, but we knew what to expect each week and month. Much of that has been taken away.
 
One day we will celebrate our loved ones again with all of their strengths, limitations, and occasional wackiness that endeared them to us. But not yet.
 
What we can celebrate today is the beauty of the evening’s sunset. We can celebrate friends who invite us over for dinner, who come over to drink coffee and see how we’re doing. We can celebrate because it’s their kindness that keeps us tethered to the earth, each other, and those we love.
 
In this time of turmoil and uncertainty, we need to remember who we are and we need to celebrate this, even though it’s difficult because we feel so defeated, inadequate, and conspicuously sad that we wonder if we have enough left to risk loving other people again. 
 
Yet we are standing up and we are dealing with one of the hardest things we will ever have to face. This is to be celebrated. We are strong, compassionate, funny, and talented, and the one who died saw these things in us and they loved us because of them.
 
Hafiz says this well: “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.”
 
Posted by Mark Liebenow at 6:09 AM
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Widower's Grief

 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Public Face of Grief

 
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When death comes to someone we love, our world changes and we are forced to change with it. When we first go into public, we are numb and in shock, bearing the marks of grief, yet most of the world doesn’t seem to notice. 

We sense people staring at us, especially those who know us well because the face that they were used to seeing is gone. People also treat us differently because we are dealing with is something that scares them, and they don’t know how to handle it.

In the weeks after my wife Evelyn died, I did not look at people. I stared at the sidewalk when I walked to work, unable to comprehend what had happened, and not wanting others to see how broken I was. I did not want to be seen. I wanted to be anonymous and did not want to stop and chat about everyday concerns that no longer mattered to me. Those who knew what had happened were cautious, not knowing how to reach through the veil of trauma and find me.
 
In all honesty, I don’t think my face showed any emotions in those first weeks, but my eyes must have looked terribly sad and lost.
 
Two months later, I threw a birthday party for Ev because I promised her I would before the unexpected happened. Now I wanted her friends to have a chance to celebrate her and share their stories. The memorial service had been rather somber, and I thought a party would be a good way to send her off on her journey across death’s sea, like the Irish did with their kin during the potato famine, putting them on ships to America, not knowing if they would ever see them again. 
 
The party was held in Tilden Park high in the Berkeley hills on a warm day of sunshine. Evelyn’s friends laughed and sang, danced to a fiddle and a Celtic drum, and there was cake with lots of frosting, which would have delighted Ev. Although it was hard for me to celebrate, I saw that other people were still happy, and I needed to know this.
 
Yet, if they reminded me that joy still existed in the world, did I remind them of the presence of death? People want to believe that life is a happy affair. They don’t want to be reminded that death can come to any of us at any time, and it doesn’t matter how good, rich, or beautiful we are. 
 
Invitations to social gatherings slowed because most of our friends were couples, and I was now a single. This presented a problem for table seatings. If I was invited, I knew that another single person would also be there and we would be expected to interact with each other all night. The single people I knew at work were twenty years younger, and although they were caring and surprisingly curious about grief, we weren’t likely to hang out in the same places or listen to the same music.
 
If anyone said something about grief, I moved closer and started asking questions, wanting to compare notes on our struggles. When this happened at large gatherings, I noticed that everyone else moved away, leaving the two of us to talk alone.
 
When we’re no longer afraid of death, our appearance shifts. Our familiarity with the dark side of human existence brings us power because we have stood toe to toe with death. We have gathered our courage and walked the path of sorrow that sometimes made us shake with fear, and we have become warriors of grief. This is what you now see in our face.
 
Posted by Mark Liebenow at 6:40 AM 
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Widower's Grief ~ Mark Liebenow 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Standing In a Dark World, Waiting

 
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When death comes, we leave the world of light behind and enter a realm of shadows.
 
Colors mute to gray. Sounds are all in the distance. Even if it’s sunny and in the eighties, the air feels cold and we wear a jacket. Food tastes like cardboard, so we don’t eat. Everything we pick up is rough to the touch, so we stay home. Our world shifts into slow gear.
 

When death hits, the world becomes a noisy commuter train with flashing lights, clacking rails, and packed with people chatting too loudly. Then we’re standing alone on the platform after midnight in an empty station at the end of the line. The darkness and silence are a relief because the world has become too loud and too bright. Finally, we can breathe.
 
At first, nothing seems to be here. Nothing is moving. But as our eyes adjust to the darkness, the stars begin to emerge. Their stillness brings presence to the long, empty hours. Each star seems alone, separated by light years, but as we watch we begin to see the thin, gossamer threads that connect each star to the others in its constellation.
 
Tonight, as on every night, hundreds of new people are getting off trains in dark stations around the world, feeling alone as they watch the stars. We sense others who are grieving around us, even though we don’t know their names or where they live.
 
Someone leans against a brick wall, waiting for the cab that will take him away from despair over his friend’s death.
 
Someone lies in bed unable to sleep. She cannot touch the empty space beside her. The loss of his physical body is too stark, and she refuses to pretend that his love never was.
 
Someone in his backyard watches for meteors, remembering when he used to watch with his wife, waiting for some sign to tell him it’s okay to let go and move on.
 
Someone on a bus goes home after the closing shift, watching the streetlights flash by and seeing the dark houses where people are asleep with their families, wondering if she will ever be a mother if she will ever risk trying to give birth again.
 
Someone can’t leave the loneliness of the beach after the sun goes down, a beach he used to walk with his father. The sounds of the restless ocean wash in, bringing the only presence he can feel, the only thing that calms his mind.
 
It takes courage to stand and face your grief. Yet we are members of a community that gathers in the darkness. In the bonds that hold us together, we find strength and light.
 
Posted by Mark Liebenow at 6:59 AM
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