Monday, December 29, 2014

Broken Open

"There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
Leonard Cohen

My heart has been broken by the death of my husband. It feels unfair that he left us so soon. We were just beginning our lives together. We were good companions and the best of friends. He had children and grandchildren who needed his guidance. He was on the cusp of transforming his life.

When my heart feels broken, I draw the curtains and shut the door. I circle the wagons and hide in the middle. I curl into a ball and turn off the lights.

Then I remember how Stan softened me. My heart is broken because my love was real. I don't want his death to harden me again.

Stan's life and death changed me forever. I am not the person I was before.

I once placed great value on my opinions. I thought them morally superior to those who opposed me. I was a big fan of political debate, and always certain to have the last word.

But I've lost my desire for conflict. My opinions don't seem to matter, much. When people were shouting, Stan urged me to see the pain and fear behind their anger. "It's only a view," he'd tell me. He taught me to lean toward kindness. He showed me how to meet their pain with love.

I used to fancy myself a misfit. I revelled in my uniqueness. I was not like all the others, I thought. I was deep, and complicated, and misunderstood. I felt weird and awkward around people. An outcast. Alone.

Now, I search for what connects us. I see that we are all born and we all will die. I knew this before, but now I have witnessed it, and it's made me different. I see how we feel lost and afraid, and how we cover our fears with words and certainty and attempts at control. If we are lucky enough to live very long, we will all know whiskers, and wrinkles, and achy joints. We have moments of joy, and glimpses of peace. We all fear losing our loved ones. His death taught me to remember these things.

People's ways used to grate on my nerves. I was easily offended, and good at finding fault. This one drank too much, that one talked too loudly, this one chewed with his mouth open, that one's voice quivered when she spoke. I took their ways as a personal affront.

I'm less prone to irritation these days, and quick to forgive perceived slights. Each of us has our habits and defences, and we navigate this scary and shocking world the best we can. I am learning to let people be.

I used to be careful, and shy, and slow to warm, afraid I'd be rejected, and look a fool. Then Stan died, and I found that time is short. We could be gone in an instant. We could be cut right down. It's made me lose my filter. Now I want to celebrate the people I love.

I have a tremendous affection for those who knew Stan. My heart leaps for joy when I greet them. I am so grateful that they knew him and loved him, that they remember him, and miss him, too.  He feels alive to me in their presence. I want to hug them and squeeze them. I think my exuberance scares them a little bit!

I spent four days last week on retreat in Shropshire, in a building of simple brick, set at the end of a long, dirt road. Thirty women gathered in this peaceful place, to meditate and study, to sit in silence and reflect. Freed from the disturbance of city lights and internet, immersed in spaciousness and quiet, I felt my heart open up.

 On Christmas Eve, there was the sliver of the moon, and a hundred thousand stars across the sky, dancing with delight. I walked down a muddy path to sit before a rupa of Prajnaparamita, the mother of all the Buddhas, future, present, and past. Under that starry night, I let my sorrow rise, and I cried out to the heavens my loss of Stan. I felt the ground beneath my feet. I let the stars and rupa cradle me. I let the earth absorb my tears.

Back in my little room, I lay in darkness and listened to my breath. I stared at the stars outside my window, and I asked Stan to teach me kindness. He was so good at it. He put aside his petty quarrels and inner turmoil to tune in to the people around him. He knew how to show up in the way that they needed--a few soft words at the reception desk, a strong shoulder to lean on, a warm hand grasping theirs--a lift to the hospital for a poorly friend, an evening call to his young son at University, his "Daddy's Pasta," cooked for his children, stirred with love, in a giant pot.

My heart has been broken open by the death of my husband. I hope I can let his light shine through it.

Prajnaparamita, The Mother of All Buddhas


  1. Thank you for writing about pre and post-death characteristics. I can identify with many that you described. We are changed. In the words of Martha Whitmore Hickman, we are like "love illuminated."

    1. Thank you Janice. I am so happy that he changed me, and that, having known him, I will never be the same. We grieve because we loved.

  2. How I relate! Although as the years went on, my former personality reasserted itself. I hope that this kindness, which sits in your soul, is welcome as an honored guest forever. Blessings to you

  3. We were both married to teachers of kindness, Tricia. Thank you for this beautiful article about the changes you've gone through as your heart was broken open. May we both remember to be patient and kind with ourselves and with grief, as well as with others.