“Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief
turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.”
– by David Whyte
I lost someone 5 weeks ago. It has truly been the most painful experience of my life. I find myself at the bottom of the well of grief today- somewhat unexpectedly. It comes and goes in waves. Today marks the anniversary of what would have been a special day for our family.
I keep hitting the “replay” button in my memory of them the last time we parted. What hurts right now is I can’t press the “replay” button in life and redo that last time we spent together. I know I would have changed the tone of my voice, opened my heart a lot wider, and told them how much I loved them (and meant it).
I understand the process of letting it go. It doesn’t make it hurt any less right now.
I know how to comfort myself. I have the tools. Cry. Drink tea. Wail. Play music. Bawl. Go out for a walk. Scream. Phone a friend. Laugh at the absurdity of life and death… Give myself the gift of forgiveness for the judgments I am holding against myself- and the anger I still carry towards them. Do a reality check. The truth is I did the best that I could. The other side of the coin is that they did the best they could too. Always. My heart aches with longing to talk to them one last time.
Fast-forward a week. I’m grateful that I’ve climbed out of the hole of despair. I’m deeply thankful for my support network. It truly does take a village to support someone who is grieving.
I found some coins at the bottom of the well. Let me tell you about them. They aren’t shiny, or even pretty, but I earned them. My gold coins are the gifts I gave myself during the time I spent in the bottom of the well, drowning in grief.
1.) Clarity that I can forgive my feelings of guilt because I recognize all the ways I was courageous until the bitter end.
2.) Knowing that there is a wellspring of self-love inside me that is stronger than I ever knew- and it will carry me through anything.
3.) A distinct awareness that my heart has been stretched to its limits and expanded. It doesn’t feel broken. It feels bigger. Like a balloon that has been overinflated and then deflated. My capacity has grown. Because of this, my heart can love more deeply than before.
Most of all, I realize that these gold coins can’t be kept to myself. They are meant to be shared with others. I have gifts to share of wisdom and compassion for myself and the people I love, knowledge of the territory of transition and loss, and willingness to go down into the well of grief to find other people who are stuck there. I carry a rope to tie around their waists to help them swim back to the surface to and into the sunshine.
I discovered the “secret water, cold and clear” – it is having faith that deep down at the bottom of the well is the living truth that this too shall pass. No matter how dark, lonely or devastating it feels down there, being fully present with the feelings will help them move through. It is the realization that embracing my vulnerabilities is a source of true strength – the strength of heart.
If you find yourself stuck in the well of grief, it can be a dark and scary place. You might not know how to get out of there, but you have to trust in the process. There is a gift down there in the darkness. Trust in turning down below the surface, finding the small gold coins and drinking the secret water. You will re-emerge to climb out of the well and go out into the world a changed, but stronger person.