Angels Rush In

September 11, 2009

Sometimes, at the fiery core of our deepest sorrow, it is as if a door flings itself open and the angels come rushing in. They may not stay long, but during those first hours, days and weeks following a profound loss, they minister to our shattered hearts with unutterable care. They relay messages from our loved ones on the other side, even if our ears are too filled with the sounds of our own sobs to hear them. They blow the breath of the divine into our lungs so that we can live. Angelic CPR. It is more: it is grace. It is terrible, beautiful grace.

We are usually too broken, too stunned by the Mystery to notice these gentle ministrations. When we do, we are often ashamed to admit to them. How could we claim that there is anything positive about the death of someone or something we deeply loved? In the wake of a serious loss, we may find ourselves floating on invisible wings, and being grateful for them, even if we do not understand. This strange gratitude may strike us as obscene, best kept to ourselves.

You can see this kind of rapture on the face of the widow at the funeral, the father of a teen-ager who died in a car wreck, or the child who watches as her mother buries the favorite family cat in the garden. They are supposed to be sad, and they are. They are expected to weep, and they do. Yet they exude a preternatural calm most observers attribute to shock. Their equanimity is written off as denial. Reduced to a biochemical tonic the brain mercifully releases to help us bear the unbearable.

I am not disputing the neurophysiological reality of this early stage of grief. Why do science and spirit have to be deemed mutually exclusive? I believe that the same divine presence that designed apes to evolve into women and men and mountains to break down into beaches created endorphins and other elixirs to help us survive and navigate the human experience. What I am saying is that the serenity that sometimes, usually fleetingly, washes over us when someone we cherish leaves this world, has meaning beyond the physical. Loss creates a vacuum in our hearts. Into that space divine sustenance flows.

And then there is the sheer power of the Mystery that breaks through when our world is cracked open by loss. We are plucked – or in many case violently wrenched – from our ordinary, limited reality. That is when the veils that obscure the spacious, holy suchness of the divine are rent, offering us a glimpse of an expanded, more ultimate reality. What we see there looks like what we have been searching for all our lives, yet paradoxically, we are in no condition to embrace it. And so we simply observe it.

The secret sweetness that fills us with awe, bordering on euphoria, passes. When the angels have done their work and patched our broken hearts enough to set us down at the base of the arduous path of grieving that lies ahead, they kiss our brow and slip away. Later, we may find ourselves looking back at those initial days following a tremendous loss with something like nostalgia. We remember it as a time when our loved ones felt vividly present to us, even as they were leaving us behind.

There are other pragmatic reasons we experience what might seem like an ill-placed sense of well-being in the wake of a serious loss. When something terrible happens to us, that is when our families and communities rally around us and offer their support. We never know how much we are loved until we are going through a crisis and suddenly everyone we know is sending soup and flowers, calling and writing, holding our feet in their laps while we cry.

Like the chemicals released in our traumatized brains, however, this circle of support will eventually dissipate. Like the angels who rush in to minister to our broken hearts, the people who love us will be compelled, through necessity or discomfort, to return to their own worlds and pick up the lives they put aside on our behalf. But good work has been done. We have been blessed, fortified, reminded of what matters most. Now we must carry those jewels close to our heart, and set out on our journey into the wilderness of grief.

5 Responses to “Angels Rush In”

  1. sutprem said

    I am reading this during my morning practice session. I live for this creative expression of connection with Spirit, it is a balm for the human experience.

    Just as you described angels comming to our aid in the first days of a loss, I feel us take each other through the veils when we share the Divine. Is this not the purpose of the collective spiritual communion sometimes referred to as “religion”? All too often, as we know, religion can distract us from the pure sentiment of sharing those moments called rapture. Thank you for being willing to dive deep, for sharing your heart, and for an early morning communion of souls.

  2. Brenda said

    I lost 2 best friends to breast cancer. One at 34 the other at 56. I traveled an intimate and unbelievably painful journey of four years with each. But in the both, I received so very much. After my last friend died, I could not surface and writing poetry helped to lift me from the depths.

    Lessons at Mary’s Feet

    Scent of lotion as I soothed dry skin
    Her heel cupped gently in my palm
    A meager offering in cancer’s wake
    My love and fears mixed with the balm

    Sisters linked through faith, not birth
    Our journey together about to end
    The scales of our lives were now tipping
    How does one lose their best friend?

    Twelve who knew, gathered in a room
    Hosannas repeating in their ears
    Preparing to sup on bread and wine,
    Almost forgetting, His time was near

    Christ knowing, as He removed His robe,
    Only actions would convey what words lacked.
    Removing sandals, He began to wash
    The soles of those loved, calloused and cracked

    Lesson written in water, not sand
    Script of affection, missive to serve
    His a Master’s heart, but servant’s hands.
    Grace to give, not earn or deserve

    Before them in submission, Christ knelt
    Ministry not needed, or even desired
    Glimpse of heaven, divinely ordained,
    Last ritual, final portrait inspired

    Did mere water cleanse twelve that night
    Or did His tears blend in the bath?
    Forgiveness washing betrayal’s stain
    Final offering left beside death’s path

    My friend’s cross not fashioned of wood
    Chemo the nails, radiation the thorn
    My last gift to her, I understood
    Her plight was to leave, mine was to mourn

    Only now, do I truly perceive grief’s gain
    His found in death, while mine found in life
    To stay or leave, such companionable pain
    My only hope born through His anguish and strife

  3. Debi Buzil said

    Mirabai, I am so touched by your writing. The unexplicable put onto paper, the sense and comfort your knowledge brings. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. And Brenda, I am now a certified BC survivor, a thriver. I just lost one of my chemo sisters to the disease, thirty years old. I love your poem. What a lift.

  4. Gabriele said

    Last week I found your blog and couldn’t believe how accurate you were able to describe how I felt at my mothers passing almost a year ago. I was very comforted by your words and your sensibility. My mothers death has changed me profoundly and I finally can put a word to the experience. Grace.

    I am very grateful that you shared your experience and I hope to meet you some day soon in one of your workshops.

  5. Amy Kamble said

    Dear Mirabai,

    I am Gabrielle Herbertson’s friend whose son took his life this July 17. Thank you for meeting with me in your home. I now see that we can stay in touch through your blog. I shared your blogs “Sitting with the Fire” and the one in which you mention rowing up stream in a dark under ground tunnel to find your child with my colleague at work who suffered the same loss this July. Yes angels rushed in with unconditional pathos and compassion. Thank you for pointing out to me that now I can carry those acts of love as jewels to face the vast expanse of grief. And thank you for answering the one question I brought during my visit, whether to process my son’s death with my head or heart. You made it clear beyond doubt. Thank you for being the “crescent moon over the festival, inviting us in”(Rumi)
    Amy Kamble

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