The Way Love Feels Now

Two years after my husband Vic’s death, I drive home to the Finger Lakes of New York after visiting my son in North Carolina. I’m on familiar roads, but get lost three times—once by turning too soon, twice by driving past my exit. Maybe I’m distracted by listening to a CD, but the real issue is I’m on my way home after spending time with loving family. It’s a transition that grabs me by the throat and throws me to the ground.

I pull in the driveway in fog and drizzle. It’s late in the day, and the dogs need to be fed and walked after many hours in the car. I pull on my rain pants and hiking boots and walk down the main trail. There is enough light to see the ground beneath my feet and make out the hedgerow, but not enough to be captivated by the comfortable familiarity of these fields. Instead, I am isolated in fog, sinking into a pit of loneliness. Vic is not here in the place where I still expect to find him. Instead, I feel the presence of his absence, a deep aching emptiness in the pit of my stomach and a constriction around my heart. He is not here, and he will not be here.

In his book, Loving Grief, Paul Bennett points out a truth that keeps me afloat: grief is none other than the love we feel for the person who is gone. Grief is the way my love feels now. This longing is my love. This pain is my love. The words ride on my breath like a mantra, opening and softening my chest.

I listen to mindfulness lectures on CDs during my long drive home. Pema Chodron reminds me to be curious instead of anxious. She reminds me to wait and watch rather than assuming the worst. She reminds me that I am not alone in grief. Hundreds and thousands and millions of others feel a similar aching emptiness at this very moment. Everyone hurts. Everyone suffers loss. My situation is not unique or special. It is human.

The next day, editing a story about my early married years when death felt far away, the heartache persists despite morning sunshine. Outside with the dogs, I pick four crimson apples from the weeping crabtree in the yard and carry them with me to the woods. I lay these bright orbs on the stones where Vic’s ashes are buried—red exuberance against gray shale. I wonder if a creature of the woods will enjoy them tonight.

Walking again that evening, after a long autumn sunset, I admire the crescent moon and the brightness of Jupiter, but can’t escape my misery. Near the stream, a moan escapes from my chest. My young dog Willow comes running, distracted from her sniffing exploration, but when she understands I’m not calling her, she returns to her search. Old Daisy stays close by. In desperation, I tip my head back and howl at the sky. I weep and yip at the crescent moon hanging low in the west.

There is no answer for my anguish, but my belly and chest let go and the beauty and serenity of the land rush in to fill the open space.

***

This article is adapted from Elaine Mansfield’s book, Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief.

 

 

Elaine Mansfield

More Articles Written by Elaine

Elaine Mansfield’s memoir ‘Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief’ (2014) won the 2015 Gold Medal IPPY Award (Independent Publisher’s Book Awards) in the category Aging, Death, and Dying. Elaine gave a well-received TEDx talk called “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss.” The talk is available under her name at Youtube.com. She has also read excerpts from her book on NPR’s Author’s Corner. Elaine writes for hospice, facilitates bereavement support groups, and gives workshops and presentations in many locations. She writes with a perspective that reflects her hospice training as well as 40 years as a student of philosophy, psychology, mythology, and meditation. She also writes a weekly blog (http://elainemansfield.com/blog/) about the adventures and lessons of life and loss. To learn more about Elaine’s work, please visit her website at http://elainemansfield.com.

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  • susan says:

    Heart rending and beautifully written – thank you.

    • Thank you so much, Susan. I’ve been grateful for healing help from Nature since I first dreamed of the Green Man after Vic’s death. I understood where to turn to soothe my sorrow. It still works every time.

  • Dennis Dore says:

    This is so extraordinarily beautiful Elaine. Perhaps I feel this way because I know you well now and you’ve shared with me your feelings. Again, I’m honored to have such a friend who feels so very deeply. I’m with you in thought and prayer.

    • Thank you, Dennis. It was written two years after Vic’s death. There has been much easing of the anguish since then, but I still turn to nature with any sorrow I have and always find comfort there.

  • Alida van Os says:

    I read her story. My heart feels so heavy that sometimes I feel I cannot breath, as there is a huge ache right at the bottom of heart and my tummy. My husband Louis passed away suddenly on 25/6/2015 after a short illness. We would have been married 37 years this November. He was my first and only love. We met when I was 13 and have been together ever since. We share two beautiful children and two amazing little grandsons. He was privileged and blessed to have met them, although he would never see them growing up. Brett was 22 months and Chayse 4 months old. I feel some days that I am never going to get over this loss, and the longing is sometimes unbearable. God is the only hope I have, and I pray that He will carry me and others, when we feel we cannot copy any longer.
    My love to all that are going through what I am going through now. All the firsts, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, New Year, all the meaningful dates.
    Elaine, thank you for sharing your story with us.
    I realize everybody’s grief is different, but I find comfort in knowing I am not alone.
    Thank you and God bless!

    • Dear Alida,
      i’m sorry my response is a bit late. I understand how longing and an aching heart feel like too much to bear–and yet we are forced to carry the load. I hope you’ve found support. Many hospice groups offer bereavement support in one-on-one counseling or support groups. I had supportive friends and family, but got so much from doing one-on-one talking with someone who had experience with bereavement. I also benefited from support groups after about a year. You might try that, even if you haven’t done anything similar before.
      After 7 years, I still miss my husband every day, but grief has a softer quality. I don’t expect or want it to ever go away. I love him. I miss him. I long for him. It feels natural and keeps me connected to him and myself.
      You are not alone and your empathy for others who are grieving is strong and reassuring.
      Sending you a big loving hug,
      Elaine

  • Elaine Mansfield,
    This is beautiful written. Stumble on your work felt familiar your words touches my soul. Dealing with a loss around the Holiday is hard for most people. Glad you find a way to help others who are still holding on to sorrow through your writings.
    Nature has always been my best friend something about walking in the wood. The moon and the stars at sunset feel so comforting

  • Barb says:

    Your piece is a mirror image to many of us who have lost a spouse. The grief you write about is spot on. While I’m now six years a widow, the grief I still feel today is the love I still have for my loved one. It’s a love that will never dissipate nor do I want it to. For me it’s not about learning how to move on but how to move with my loss as part of me. I look forward to reading more of your story. Thank you for sharing Elaine.