The Poetry of Loss

My son and I are driving into town for our weekly Friday morning special time and Suzanne Vega’s song “The World Before Columbus” comes on. It’s a song she wrote for her daughter that I used to sing to Everest when he was a baby, and these lyrics made me cry every time:

 

 

Those men who lust for land

And for riches strange and new

Who love those trinkets of desire

Oh they never will have you.

And they’ll never know the gold

Or the copper in your hair

How could they weigh the worth

Of you so rare.

They still make me cry. As we’re driving, I look over at him, so tall, fourteen, a pilot, an adventurer, a light of a human being, and I see the gold and copper that still shine in his hair. I sing along, tears forming as they always do. He looks at me and smiles. I say, “You know how much I love you, don’t you, Everest?” He says yes. I cried then and now from the depth of my love for him, but now I cry because of the time that has passed, because of the memories of baby Everest that rise up to meet this fourteen-year old young man sitting next to me. The love and loss are curled up together in a pocket of my heart.

***

I’m walking on an early November afternoon. The trees have lost their leaves. The light is more muted than it was two weeks ago at the peak of Autumn when the world was dressed in robes of gold. November, especially in Colorado, is a sober, liminal month between October’s vibrancy and December’s shimmering snow. It’s also my birthday month, and as I observe the bare limbs and gray light I think how fitting it is that I was born in this month. As much as I love the brilliance of October and the angelic beauty of December, there is also pain in such beauty: pain in knowing that it cannot last, the pain that comes with the awareness of impermanence, the longing to fuse with the beauty in rapture but the ache in knowing that I can never get quite close enough. November won’t last, either, but it’s easier to release attachment to the muted months than it is to the months of splendor.

When I was a kid, I remember being disappointed by the photo chosen for November in the yearly wall calendars. It seemed to me that almost every other month received a glorious nature photo or an adorable animal photo, but that November always received the boring photo. I smile when I think of this now, for with the maturity and wisdom that come with the passage of time I appreciate these so-called boring photos that reflect the essence of November in a whole new way. Now, November brings exhale: a month to simply be. There’s a different kind of rapture that occurs when we surrender to the middle path, to the sweetness of oatmeal love. It’s the secret joy inside what the culture calls “settling,” and we cannot arrive there without walking through a season of loss. Nothing dramatic. Nothing sensational. Just quiet, bare-limbed, silver-light November. Just like real love.

***

It’s not easy to articulate, and I know it’s not an experience that everyone has, but from listening to my clients talk about their transitions over the past twenty years, it’s evident that there’s a sector of our population for whom life and loss are entwined, two strands in a single piece of yarn. Parenthood brings this awareness particularly close to consciousness, for the moment the umbilical cord is cut we are asked to let go of the person we love most in the world. It’s why we try to immortalize our babies through photographing and scrapbooking. But it doesn’t work. No matter how much we record our memories there are still thousands that will slip through our fingers. And it’s not the memories that we long to hold onto; it’s the children. Time passes and they slip further away as they appropriately grow up and move into the world.

Intimate love also brings this duality to the forefront of awareness. When we love with our whole hearts and when we are loved for who are are, the risk of loving can feel unbearable. For those prone to anxiety, this risk is often transposed into a projection that seeks to push a loving partner away with the conviction that “something is wrong”. The protection sweeps in quickly, sometimes within nano-seconds after the slightest prick of the fear of loss enters consciousness; sometimes even before that. The heart that has been hurt by life and it believes it cannot bear one more loss, so it erects the fortress of projection as protection.

The way through is to name these experiences, to know that for the sensitive heart there is no differentiating between love and loss. The more we can name loss as it appears in daily life, the more intimate we become with its ways. And the more we know it, the less we fear it, for it is easier to fear an unnamed enemy than the one who sits before you, looking you in the eyes. Sit before your loss. Get to know it. Notice the ways it shows up in a moment, in a day, in a week. Pause when it lands in your heart, place your hand there, and breathe into it. Perhaps write a poem. Draw a picture. Sing out the song of your loss. When we name and express loss, we let love in. Loss lives in a layer of our skin, like a permeable soap bubble. When we merge with the skin of this bubble instead of resist it, love grows. The fear of loss is the wall that keeps love out, but coming into direct contact with the loss lets it in.

In the bathhouse of grief, tears are everywhere, waiting for us to catch them in our cupped hands. They don’t always show up as tears; something it’s a micro-moment of sadness that only asks one thing: to see her, to know her, to love her. It’s all we ever need.

***

If you’re new to my site, welcome :). This is a safe place to explore the roots of your anxiety and intrusive thoughts so that you can soften your fear-walls and move closer to love in all forms. I have hundreds of free articles on every aspect of anxiety, and several courses that will guide you along your healing path, teaching you how to follow the lamplight and wisdom of anxiety into the art of living. 

17 comments to The Poetry of Loss

  • Susan

    Beautiful! Yes, you understand the experience of love and loss simultaneously as I live on a daily basis. I have a beautiufl 12 year old girl, a gift of light in my life, I also have the loss of my first daughter who would now be 14., also a gift, but I don’t get to raise her. She died at birth. The feelngs of love and loss are always intertwined. I loved reading your article! You understand….so few do.

  • Kayleen

    I loved reading this. Thank you so much sheryl, for you always seem to pull at my heart strings and put all things into words that I often dont know how to. I am so thankful for your work and your wisdom. ❤❤❤❤❤ sending love you way.

  • Elizabeth Costello

    Hi Sherly,

    How timely. Thank you. Beautiful as always. I had a direct encounter with loss last week, in a way that I have never experienced. It eventuated when I realised in a moment of reflection that I have never made a decision where I 100% decide to fully carry myself into the action. I believe that if I hold myself back a little, I can detect any danger and then pull out if I want to – because I have such a strong belief that certainty equates to being able to fully decide and let go. I just keep waiting around for certainty even though I know that I will never find it. So I took the plunge in this moment and I let myself fall into making a decision and accepted the imperfections and uncertainty that came with this particular decision. All of a sudden my entire body become aroused – every inch of my being was aching with pain. My heart was so heavy. I had aches in my organs and on my skin. I felt ill. I could hardly walk. But I did. I padded around my house so gently and lovingly with all of this sadness coursing through me. Just holding myself. I just kept saying to myself: you are safe, you are safe. You are allowed to chose, it doesn’t make you a bad person. You are a good person. You are good and safe. The whole thing freaked me out but I just leaned back into the pain. It was bizarre. It felt so counter intuitive. But yet I felt like my pain was breathing and moving rather than being trapped and locked (which is how I have felt for years). I came front on with a part of myself that thinks im intrinsically bad, a liar but I just loved that part of me instead. I cried with relief and my imagination of a happy future came to life. I was knocked out for the rest of the day and just rested. It was so hard though. And in hindsight, I cant help but think all that pain is because I am going against or cheating myself. But then I remember in the peak of my episode with pain a clear wisdom came shining through that just said “you are free to chose. You are a good person”.

    One choice is staying in my country of origin, to be with my gorgeous family and pursue a promising career and amazing weather (Australia). The other choice is to live on the other side of the world with my partner in his country of Sweden (where I have previously lived with him for 3 years – he decided he cant promise me that he can live in Australia), face language and culture barriers, find a job in this context, exist in our imperfect union, be away from my sisters and amazing parents which I know is hard from experience…all the evidence suggests to stay at home. But I just cant help but want to take the risk anyway and just “work it” – bring it in. Grow from it. I know I could stay here down under and have an amazing life with less complexities. But to own this challenge makes me feel so empowered. Makes me feel like I can take on anything and be so strong – such a fighter. Ive always loved to push the boundaries ;). I don’t know what I will chose but practicing making a decision and exploring those emotions seems to be a new approach I am exploring. What holds me back the most is the deep guilt I feel for leaving behind my family. I love them so much and we meet on so many levels – we are an affectionate and similar in values family. We all struggle with international travel because of emissions. Living in Sweden seems irrational. But yet, I don’t know if I WANT to let it go – that adventure. I am so determined. Time will tell. I will let you know what I chose.

  • Samantha

    Sheryl, I look forward to every Sunday so I can read your beautiful words. I’m so thankful for your work. Please don’t stop anytime soon :).

  • Sheryl, This post could not feel more timely for me. Your words comfort me and are a validation in my anchor in knowing my partner has acted out in his fear. He pushed me away in a moment of what I saw as an opportunity for more understanding and closeness, he saw as “something is wrong.”
    My anxious attachment style, in the past, would have caused me to panic and cling to him, try to break down his walls and try and reach him. We’ve worked so hard on this relationship for three years. I have worked so hard to sit down in my losses, get to know them, and then share them with him, to create more intimacy. He is unable to do the same, at this time in his life. It makes me sad, to see this place and accept it, but there seems to be no other way now.
    There is some knowing in me now, that he is caught in his fear and that I can no longer chase him to try and convince him of my/our worth. Only he will see, if and when he chooses to see that he gets caught in his fear.

    I will bookmark this post, because loss is everywhere, and I will need to re-read your words on days I forget. But you speak to things other don’t, and it much needed in this world these days. Thank you for using your voice to shed light on these places. I’m very grateful.

  • quietcourage

    How unspeakably beautiful and stirring this was to read, Sheryl. You completely captured the essence of this month. I will be back to read this one again. And for me also, love and loss are indeed one twisting strand of yarn. What a balm it is to be understood and not alone in this heightened sensitivity, knowing that so many others who are connected to you through some short or long thread are also deeply sensitive beings. Thank you <3

  • Sheryl, I love this. When my daughter was born (she’s 2 1/2 now) I was so overwhelmed by love, but loss feelings were there too. She was our third pregnancy, but our first child in the world. Your course helped so much for me to start to heal from the two miscarriages and move through the anxiety of getting pregnant again. I have written poetry since I was a child, and I wrote a poem after my daughter was born. It’s something I just shared publicly yesterday. It seems to be resonating with many women already. This helps me feel a bit more comfortable with the raw vulnerability of putting it out there. I would love if you wanted to read it if you felt like you want to.

  • I hesitated reading this post at first because until this past year I haven’t felt the word “loss” so viscerally as I do now, and it’s hard for me to face it. I’ve favored distraction and numbing what’s in my future as my mother is very ill with late-stage cancer and we don’t know how much time she has left, whether it’s months or years. Through all of this processing and grieving I welcomed my first child who is now 8 months old. I feel overwhelmed at the immense love I have for her, and at the same time a very intense fear of losing her. I have felt that there’s something poetic (but at the same time cruel, infuriating and unfair) at becoming a mother while also being faced with saying goodbye to my own. I’m trying to guide myself to sit with it and transmute it into something through writing or painting, but it’s so much easier to just shut it off with mindless activities. I’m afraid of it consuming me.

    This post just opened a well that I haven’t tapped into in a long time. Thank you, Sheryl.

    • Alison – I’m glad you decided to read the article and that it helped you tap into your pain. It’s so easy and natural to distract, but when we turn inward and toward, we connect back into the flow of life with all of its messiness and also its creativity. Sending you love as you walk through this challenging time of loss and renewal.

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