How it is at Eighteen Months

July 14, 2019

Dear Folks,

I haven’t written since March and feel the need to let you know where I am. I’ve just returned from a meditation retreat at Wonderwell, where I’m enrolled in the Margha Program, I’m still seeing a few clients, painting with Elisabeth Moss, and writing with writing group. I’ve joined Writing Your Grief, a group started by the Megan Devine who wrote It’s OK That You’re Not OK. Convening Full Moon and Elder Council is happening. All sounds good, right?

And it is, in a way, from the outside it may seem that I am doing what some might call recovery, getting back to life, etc, etc. Whew, we don’t have to think about her grief any more or help her carry it. But that’s not how it works. There is no recovery, grief is not an illness. There is carrying. There is learning to carry one’s grief lovingly. Even though every impulse screams, STOP, I cannot take another minute of this pain. To let it pour out when is wells up and won’t be denied, to trust its intelligence. So I am living a double life. I have one foot in the underworld of grief, the other world, which is right here where Allan is, and in the world of activity and trying to find my path. Or rather, waiting for my path to find me. I just walked the paths in our woods, and since Allan is not here to groom them they are a mess, sometimes I just stood and had to orient myself to where to step next. And I thought, this is like my life, I don’t know the path, I don’t know the future, or at least, I don’t live in the delusion anymore that I think I do. I have no aspirations except to live from the heart, which often hurts like hell. While on retreat I read an interview with Lama Tsultrim Allione, whose beloved husband, David, died several years ago from a heart attack in the night. Quietly. The interviewer was asking her a list of those likes, dislikes (why do they do that?) and asked her what is misery to her. She replied, grief and loneliness. I remember her saying once that for all her practice, all the years of sitting and long retreats, even though she is a Lama, she was not prepared for this. I remember attending David’s bardo ceremony, with Allan, at the end of 49 days since his death. Allan and I happened to be in New Mexico and drove to Colorado, through mountains which absolutely mesmerized Allan with their beauty. There was a film of David made two years before his death. The interviewer asked him if he had plans for the future at Tara Mandala, and he said, well I don’t plan on going anywhere. Within two years he had left his body.

So I am going through the motions of my life, except when I am really deeply engaged with people I am right there, but living with loneliness for Allan and constant grief. I’ve joined the Grief Revolution also Megan Devine’s group, and post many things from Megan on Facebook. It’s hard to believe what people have to endure from those who can’t possibly know what this is like. I, thankfully, have had only a few instances where I’m stunned and speechless by what loved ones say. I’m blessed in that way. And if I know someone can’t be with my grief, then I take a break from contact, because it’s too painful. All grief is equal but it is not the same. We may go through it differently, but I see a definite pattern at least in the people who are open about it. When your long time beloved dies, it has a different effect on your physiology than when someone dies who you love but don’t live with, aren’t intimate with, it is equal but not the same. It is still painful, deep bows, but not the same. I can still feel my biochemistry adjusting itself, reeling without touch, without the synchronization of our hearts, minds, breathing, physicality. My heart is often out of rhythm, it doesn’t know where to synchronize, it’s finding its way, I hope. Sometimes I feel I could topple with the disorientation of not having him to lean on, or him to lean on me. Where is my place? Sometimes deep fear will seize me, larger than the fear I live with every day. And I believe it is this deep unconscious, biological missing of the “other half.” A phrase I used to disparage, thinking it meant women didn’t have their whole self in relationship. I had both, my whole self and my other half. But now my whole self seems to have wandered off into other realms. Thank Goddess for the women who mirror back to me that they see me, that I am still here. That my essential Self is still present.

I almost left the retreat, a huge tsunami of grief washed over me. The environment was so reminiscent of our time spent in Vermont, our retreats of the early years with no electricity, gas lighting, no water and lots of ideas, inspirations, reading amongst the loons, paddling and wandering time to when we were older walking the road in Cabot with Roxie, talking or not. All the words and concepts of the lectures flooded me because I was trying to listen and understand, ever the good student. Well, that’s another thing, the brain does not work as it used to. And I am less interested in concepts, analysis, but more called to direct experience of life. Except right now, that direct experience is searing almost daily.

I want to keep a foot in the other world and I want to hurt less, and the more I want to hurt less, the more I hurt. It’s a constant practice of hand to heart, saying you’re welcome to be here, anxious, bereft, loneliness, a particular hollowness where I should be, where he should be. Sometimes I can, often I can’t be welcoming, and find myself doubled over in pain with no witness of compassion. It seems so anyway, until I ask, as Lama Liz asked me at the retreat, who is the one noticing all the pain. That is me.

This weekend Petra was here, she came so I wouldn’t be alone on return from the retreat and because she loves to be here. And because we love each other. We did planting, talking, reading, mowing the “lawn”, moved some things to the swap shack, cried, cried a lot, well I did anyway, she held me. I love her so. She has been a blessed gift from this terrible loss. The kindness of people I hardly know is astounding, while I’m shocked that close friends have moved away. The village that gathered around Allan’s death has dispersed, people that were in my life are not now. Perhaps another day. I understand it’s scary to be with someone who doesn’t hold back, who doesn’t pretend it’s all OK now. Impermanence is life. I turned 70 this month. I am old now. And grateful for that. My aspiration is to live from the heart, to be useful to those who can use what I have to offer, to love unconditionally and to make contact with Allan. I have faith that as my grief becomes softer I will hear and feel him more often, that he is right here always. I have more faith that life continues, there is no death, as Allan said when he came in the first dream, death is a state of mind. And I pray that someday I again find some kind of peace in my heart in solitude. I crave a peaceful heart.

I’m so grateful for steadfast friends, wise women who lead me through, those who know this takes years to soften. Who don’t assume that because I’m involved in activities of life that I’m OK. And I am learning, in the most terrible of ways, a true apprenticeship to impermanence and the Dark Mother, that everything we love will physically die. I am grateful to have been loved by Allan, and still. He is the best thing that ever happened to me.

We need to find a way to remove the stigma of shame from grieving openly, to speaking openly, to allowing the time it takes within all the different circumstances of our lives. Grief is terrible, it is tender, it is a teacher we don’t want, it is the other side of love. Grieving needs village. When you grieve openly, you’re holding grief for all of us, like holding open the gate. We will all go there in some way. How can we hold each other if we don’t know how to be present with patience, with not trying to fix, learning how to withstand what other’s grief opens up in our stories, our own fears.

Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Eighteen months on June 24th. I can hardly believe it still.

Much love, Nora

Author: Nora Jamieson

A soul worker, writer, life long student of death and dying, life is now teaching me the scorching ways of bereavement after the death of my beloved. Right now my writing and painting are solely and soulfully about grieving.

10 thoughts on “How it is at Eighteen Months”

  1. Nora, I have been thinking a lot about grief and loss. When I read this beautiful and honest piece of writing, I related it to many dear friends who are experiencing loss, perhaps not that of an intimate partner, but loss that brings on deep grief/grieving — a close friend’s diagnosis of advanced Parkinson’s and how she is watching each system in her body begin to shut down; another dear friend who had a double mastectomy last fall and is grieving the loss of her breasts and a sense of invincibility that no longer belongs to her; how another friend’s Alzheimer’s is altering her perception of herself; my own mobility. Your writing has helped immensely. Thank you for letting us see your thoughts, feelings and insights. Love, Sandy

  2. Dear Nora, As I begin to write I am not at all certain that I can find words. I guess it will be best to tell you that there is not a day that I do not think of you and Allan and all that you have meant in my life. I hold both of you in my heart and hope that somehow you can feel my caring and support.
    I have to believe that one day, because of Allan’s love for you, you will find a path, so different, always remembering, but certain in its rightness. Allan’s forever gift to you will come as you search and grieve in all of the authentic ways that honor your shared love and life. Love, Anne

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience of deep grief. I am so sure that this is my future too. I am trying to learn what I can without sinking into grief that does not yet exist. I feel your pain of missing that constant awareness of Alan being right there physically and spiritually with you. How could anyone every adjust to that? I am learning that growing old means living with pain all the time, all sorts of pain. At least there is still love and joy and belonging too. Bless you, Nora.

  4. Dear Nora
    I just read this and found it moving and true. As you know, I’ve experienced a great deal of grief in my life including grieving the Holocaust’s destruction of my family, a child who died, another with unending medical issues and disabilities, and a daughter recovering from addiction. Add to this the losses of increasing age with disabling medical conditions, which I have been experiencing lately.

    Despite these wide variety of losses, I think that the loss of a beloved partner, however common, is one of life’s greatest griefs. My husband Roger and I are 72 and think about this loss often, and just thinking about it is unbearable! You know I’ve written about alchemical spiritual transformations of grief to gratitude. But these transformations take a long time and are full of suffering. In the larger context of our grief for the earth and its living inhabitants, it seems to me that the loss of a mate/partner/spouse is even more hard to bear. I know your relationship with Allen was one of rare partnership and love and I hope that you get some consolation from this. My heart and prayers are with you.

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