Heart Magic Note: I wrote this piece 3 years ago and since then it has informed how I work with people, and bigger than that It has inspired a revolution in me…what if we all asked this question, rather than the standard “How are you?” Imagine that world! It is now 10 years later and I still believe THIS is the question to ask.
I stood frozen in my garden as she hugged me. Her embrace was awkward. She sighed and said directly into my left ear: “Oh, I can’t imagine, you poor thing.” She carried on holding me and telling me how much she was hurting and how shocking it all was. My mind rolls over what I wish I could say in return… Let me go, I can’t hold your emotion right now.
He saw me in the aisle of the supermarket. I saw him look in my direction and then shift his gaze and slink away. Seeing me caused discomfort and he wished to avoid any chance of meeting my eye. Good, I thought, I am not in the mood to manage your feelings today.
She looked at me with sad eyes, weeping with pity. “So, tell me, how are you?” With a pronounced thud on the ‘you’. How the fuck do you think I am? What a stupid question!
Death is uncomfortable and for those seeking to support someone navigating grief, it is tricky territory. No one knows what to say. There are only so many times you can say, “I am sorry for your loss.”
Seven years ago, when my son Sage died it was a shock wave that trembled beyond my heart and out into my family, my friends, and our community. How is it possible that one day you could wake to a new day and a little boy of ten be dead? What happened? And worse, could that happen to me? Discomfort settled in and we all stumbled about in the dark.
The stench of death is sticky and most fear it. For me, I had no choice and I was given no warning. One day Sage was talking, laughing, and hugging me. The next day his body was cold and grief moved in for her forever visit.
When you hold grief so close you appear to others as wearing a cloak of darkness. Some fear it, others try to solve it, and some wish to imagine they can wash it away with a throw-away line. Before you become accustomed to your new heart vibration of grief, you feel alien in your own body. You pulse with a new wave of emotion that makes no sense and never eases. You tremble with a frustration that can never be satisfied. All you want is the one you lost, and it is the one thing you are denied. Forever.
Please don’t ask me how I am. Please don’t pity me. Please don’t tell me you can’t imagine what I am going through. Please don’t hug me and tell me everything is going to be okay, that I am strong and I will get through this.
Please. Just let it be. Sit with me in the dark. Allow the silence to settle and for me to feel your company in my dark corner. Please do not try to make me feel anything other than what I am feeling.
Please ask me, “How is your heart?
I wish to tell you my heart is broken, expanding, and healing all in one beat. I wish to tell you that I miss my son. I wish to tell you that I fear one day I will not remember the details of his face. I wish to tell you my body craves his embrace.
Please let me tell you of my heart, and please do not avoid the depth of my desire to be seen and heard with all my pain. Please sit with me so I can feel a pulse other than my own. Please do not fill the space with words of a quote you once heard. Please be with me in the dark and sit in the discomfort with me.
I have had practice now. Seven years of sitting with my grief has given me the time needed to pick up the broken pieces and stitch them together. My broken heart has transformed into a heart that beats while holding memories, grief, desire, and the deep scar of Sage’s death. I sit comfortably in the dark and know how to seek the light and have time and time again shifted from the dark to the light. I am comfortable with death and the grief that descends as the dark cloak.
An afternoon many months ago, I sat with my good friend and soul brother in a dark bar in Lower East Side, Manhattan. We sat here often, sometimes animated with stories, sometimes holding each other’s pain.
On this day I asked him, “How is your grief?”
Weeks before he had lost a love of his life, his beloved mentor and friend. She had been leaving her life and body for some time so it was not a shock when she passed, but it was a shift in his world and a deep tear in his heart.
My friend began to gently cry. He picked up a napkin from the bar and wiped his eyes as he told me his grief was constant and painful. I sat with him, holding him gently in my gaze, with an open posture and a hand that reached toward him. That is enough I felt. Just let it be.
A few moments later he got up and went to the restroom. In his absence, I wavered for a moment. Should I have asked? I know my friend, and I know he is open with his heart and free with his tears. I did not feel that I needed to protect him, but I did wonder if I had made the right move in asking him the direct question of his heart.
When he returned I enquired. “Was it okay that I asked you that?”
He looked me directly in the eye and said: “Deb, you are the only one who has asked.”
My mind silently screamed: “What the fuck.”
Where was the care and support of his girlfriend? Why had his other friends not asked, where were they? Did his mother not reach out to him?
I knew the answer. They sat in fear of the discomfort. They did not know what to say. They felt ill-equipped to hold his broken heart. They wished to talk of anything other than death. They cautioned as they did not want to upset him. I remembered that happening to me.
What they didn’t acknowledge is this. He is upset, he hurts, and he needs people in his corner. To sit in the dark, to say nothing, to allow the silence to settle, and for him to know that he is seen in his grief. That was my desire, and I remember it well.
Since that day I have asked my friend often: “How is your heart?” and he asks me. The question is always welcome. The answer is not always neat and wrapped up in a bow but we allow and listen.
Next time you do not know what to say or are uncomfortable in the dark, risk asking the question that matters, the one that speaks directly to the source of the grief. Ask, “How is your heart?” and then wait and listen for the beat that follows.