Deep Calls to Deep: Why Grievers Understand Each Other

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I wear the black shroud of my dead, walk through dark canyons littered with bones. Sorrowful, beautiful death lives here. Silence is my companion because you are gone.

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A friend who works with the grieving loves the Latin of this phrase so much (abyssus abyssum invocate), that she had it tattooed on her arm. I understand why. We both speak Grief. Megan says it’s an “invitation and statement of purpose.”

The phrase comes from Psalm 42:7, and the image is of desperately longing for someone. Of being battered by a tempest of wind and water. Of being lost. Sinking. The believer wants to be reunited with God and wants to feel assurance during this time of distress will end. Yet there is despair, not knowing how this could ever happen. For people who are grieving, they also want to communicate with their dead. They call out and listen in their hearts for a response. Deep calls to deep.

When two people who are grieving get together, we do not have to explain ourselves to each other. We understand the land where the other one lives. We open ourselves and share the depths of our sorrow. We speak honestly, without pretense. We speak from our brokenness, from the silent place within us, as we try to help each other. Deep understands deep.

When those who work with the grieving talk to each other, there is the fertility of shared hearts. We exchange insights, and exchange words and wisdom learned from the hard experiences. In order to help others, we often return to our own experiences of grief and become vulnerable to being shattered again by our past trauma, yet we take this risk. Deep shares deep.

What this phrase says, for grievers and believers, is that when we have lost our beloved, we need the companionship of others who understand the depths of sorrow. We need to know that we are not alone in a world that has been ripped apart. We need to feel that there is still hope beyond the destruction we see.

When death comes, we retreat from the brightness of day and dwell in the darkness of night. We dwell in the shadows of our hearts, and are surrounded by emotions that surge and swirl around us. Here we wail in anguish and despair. Here we gather from the ground the pieces of hope we have left. And here, in this deep place in our souls, we discover the iron strength that has been fused to our core.

O dark Mother, lead me inward, down to the cave of my heart.

Mark Liebenow

More Articles Written by Mark

Mark Liebenow grew up in Wisconsin. When he moved to California, he often went to Yosemite and discovered the transcendence of Nature that John Muir wrote about. It was during this time that his wife Evelyn died suddenly of an unknown heart problem when she was in her forties. Liebenow now lives in Illinois where he helps friends preserve heirloom seeds on their organic farm. He writes about grief, nature, and the theology of fools. Liebenow is the author of four books, the most recent being Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite, about going into nature to deal with grief. It was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2012. His essays, poems, and literary criticism have been published in journals like The Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Disquieting Muses Quarterly, Clackamas Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Rain Taxi Review. His poems have been set to music by composers Stephen Heinemann, “Mirage,” an eight-minute work for chorus and soprano saxophone; John Orfe, “God of the Night,” a choral piece commissioned by the Choral Arts Ensemble of Rochester, Minnesota; Robert Levy, “Maybe Sadness,” a jazz song that has been recorded. He has won the Chautauqua Nonfiction Prize, the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize, the Literal Latte Essay Prize, the Sipple Poetry Award, received honorable mentions for the Editor’s Prize at The Spoon River Poetry Review and the Academy of American Poets Prize. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, an Illinois Arts Council Award, and named a notable essay in Best American Essays 2012. Liebenow studied creative writing in the graduate school at Bradley University and English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He holds M.Div. and M.A. degrees., and speaks before groups and gives workshops on a variety of topics.

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  • Wilbert says:

    I lost the woman I love most and mother of my only son took him away from me now I’m alone not having someone to talk with share jokes felling like I’m alone in this cruel world pls help me to overcome the pain and sorrow im felling ryt now,I tryed to date woman to close the gabe but all I’m felling empty inside me pls help before I do something bad in my life

    • Wilbert, if you are crashing and are worried that you might do something bad, please talk to someone. Call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

  • Robin Botie says:

    You’ve said it so beautifully, Mark. I’m always amazed at the shared bonds between strangers who have known deep loss. It’s so easy to allow these strangers in because they already know where my heart is and its condition.

    • Grief clears the table of so many non-essentials, things we get so upset about, and then grief comes in and lets us know that they don’t matter as much as the deeper things going on in the world. People are dying and we can’t decide what to wear. People have been left alone by the death of their loved one, and we don’t visit because we don’t know what to say. They don’t need our words, they need our presence. When grievers get together, we don’t have to chit-chat until we’re down to where our hearts are living. We’re already there, and our sharing can begin right there.

  • sue mitchel says:

    this is one of your most intense yet

  • Lisa Scott says:

    I love that phrase. I am going to write it down. Another beautiful post by you.