Time Steals

February 18, 2011

One of the many platitudes with which well-meaning friends and acquaintances try to comfort us when we have lost someone very dear to us is this one: time heals.  But I’d like to explore the opposite phenomenon: time steals.  It steals the immediacy of our loved one’s presence in our lives.  The more time passes after their death, the farther away our life together grows.  This can be an extremely painful part of the early phases of the mourning process, and one for which our support system often neglects to support us!

Jenny’s car wreck happened a week after we returned from a vacation in Hawaii.  While swimming in the ocean, I had cut my foot on coral, and traveled home with a deep gash.  When Jenny died, my foot was just beginning to heal.  I remember having this irrational desire for the healing process to slow down and stop, because the pain of that wound connected me to a time when my daughter was alive, and we stood in the shallow water of the South Pacific, holding hands and squealing as we watched the tropical fish swimming around our feet.

As I sit with people who are freshly grieving, I often hear things like this: “I dread when his subscription to Surfer Magazine expires, because then I will really know he is gone.”  “I am using her shampoo and lotion, because it makes me feel closer to her, but it’s almost gone.  Then what?”  “His aroma is fading from his clothes.  I go into his closet and inhale his shirts, but I can’t smell him anymore.”  “I left her room exactly as it was, but it’s starting to feel like a museum exhibit, and not a real place.  Today I threw away her toothbrush, and collapsed on the bathroom floor, sobbing.  Her toothbrush!”

Around two weeks after Jenny died, I was sitting at the table with Jeff, moving the food around on my plate, finding it almost impossible to do something as life-sustaining as eating when my child was dead.  Suddenly I realized that the growing anxiety roiling in my gut had something to do with the fact that that Jenny and I had never been separated this long.

Once, when Jenny was around nine, I taught a workshop in Mexico.  Jenny stayed with my best friend, whose daughter was Jenny’s best friend, and I was able to speak with her on the telephone every few days.  Before I left for the airport, Jenny had stashed a surprise package wrapped in a piece of pink felt in the bottom of my suitcase: a framed picture of herself on my lap when she was four, a note telling me to be happy and assuring me that she would kiss my picture every night before she went to sleep, and a box of grape “nerds,” her favorite candy.  So I didn’t feel severed from my daughter.  I knew it was temporary.  Separation by death is a rending of the most basic fabric of relationship.  It cannot be repaired.

Yet something else can take its place: a new metaphysical connection will fill in the space left behind by the physical connection.  We cannot know this when we are newly grieving, and it’s pointless to dwell on it, because in the beginning that is nothing but an abstract concept.  It utterly fades in light of the blazing fire of loss.  Still, there are things we can do to cultivate this new relationship – gently and naturally – even as we allow ourselves to feel the full reality of what we have lost.

Inventing rituals and dedicating projects in honor of your loved one is a powerful way to find our new path together.  Lighting a candle next to their picture on a regular basis can become a tangible means for invoking their presence and offering our love.  Running a marathon or singing in a concert, publishing a poem or feeding the homeless, we can offer the experience – either publicly declared or privately held – to the memory of our loved one.  On a future visit to Hawaii after Jenny’s death, I leapt off a forty-foot cliff into a volcanic pool below – something I never would have done before this loss had rendered me fearless – and as I plummeted through the air I screamed, “This is for you, Jen!”  It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

I still enact rituals on a regular basis, from arranging a vase of flowers beside her picture every week to decorating the Celtic cross on the side of the road where she crashed on the anniversary of her death.  Every time I write a book or give a talk, I invoke Jenny’s assistance.  Each story I tell about her erases the distance between us.  Jenny is part of everything I do now – especially the beautiful, wonderful, playful things.  The temperamental teenager has given way to an impish angel who guides my steps to an authentic life, and keeps me from taking myself too seriously.

This new, metaphysical relationship did not happen overnight.  First I had to fully show up for the hard work of conscious grieving, neither minimizing my pain nor using spiritual concepts to check out from reality.  I had to say yes to the fire, even as everything in me was saying no to the burning.  A part of me had to die with her death, to be transfigured into a being who could hang out with a spirit.



14 Responses to “Time Steals”

  1. angi said

    amen abracadabra amen! you speak my heart…

  2. Kristen said

    I recently started following your blog and am very inspired by your writing and your story. Your words will heal.

  3. Hi, Mirabai,
    What seemed especially, what? poignant, when Joe died, was, as the pain got duller, I realized the pain of the loss was itself a connection to him, and and its diminishment meant less connection. Recently, thanks to Facebook, I have had the opportunity to be of service long distance to one of his grandchildren, fulfilling a promise I had made to him.
    Odd, today i had occasion to listen to a recording of him singing. A very strange feeling; he died in 1975.
    I am sorry to learn of your loss, and will offer no platitudes, but some prayers.

    • Oh, Adrienne, how beautiful to hear your perspective on this, you as the widow of the legendary Little Joe Gomez, who had such a huge impact on generations of people here in Taos and beyond. When my daughter died, my mom (who also lost a child) encouraged me to grieve as long as I needed to, because, as she said, it can feel like your pain is the only connection you have left, and if you let go of that you’re letting go of your love. She acknowledged that this is not the case – I wouldn’t be betraying Jenny if I ever laughed or made love or watched a movie again and forgot for an hour or two – but that it feels that way for a while, and that this is normal. That really helped.

  4. Penny Parkin said

    This is absolutely beautiful, Mirabai. I’m sharing on my fb page. Thank you!

  5. Victoria Cunningham said

    I know. I know. I know. Nearly two years down the road from my best friend/sister’s murder, I know deeply and sincerely the process of which you speak, Mirabai. I never would have believed at the time of her departure that our relationship could still be intact – just in a different dimension. I do much of the same things you do – her picture (one I snapped not long before her physical death) is my wall paper on my cell phone during challenging days. A scarf I gave her that is now mine stays warmly wrapped around my neck during my meditation rituals. Do I still long to go out for a glass of wine with her and just sit and be together, as we did every Friday afternoon? Of course. But do I find the comfort and solace within my aching heart knowing she is still surrounding me, and loving me, and supporting me? Most definitely yes. Thank you for your wise, enlightening and precious words.


    • You so beautifully describe that ineffable balance between sorrowing for what is forever gone, and embracing the new way of being together. Thank you, Victoria! Two years is nothing, when you’ve loved someone as deeply as you loved your best friend/sister. Sending you a warm hug –

  6. Kate said

    Thanks for this one Mirabai. It certainly speaks to me although I am not there yet. Working on it, though.

  7. Kristen said

    Hi again,
    I wanted to thank you for all the important, healing work that you do by passing on One Lovely Blog Award to you. You can pick it up at this link on my blog: http://thespiritthatmovesme.blogspot.com/p/news.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: