I joked about a week after losing my wife that I wanted a tag that said “This man is grieving. Warning: he may without provocation break down in tears. He might rage about the smallest thing. He might lose himself in a crowd, numb with loss and grief”.
I have found the poems of Rumi, who lost Shams, either a dear friend or his lover depending on who tells the story, so life-giving. Like me, he lost this dear one unexpectedly. He searched, longing for them.
In one of his poems he describes this being lost
“Here are the miracle-signs you want:
that you cry through the night and get up at dawn, asking,
that in the absence of what you ask for your day gets dark,
your neck thin as a spindle,
that what you give away is all you own,
that you sacrifice belongings,
sleep, health, your head,
that you often sit down in a fire
like aloes wood,
and often go out to meet a blade like a battered helmet.
“When acts of helplessness become habitual, those are the signs.
But you run back and forth listening for unusual events,
peering into the face of travelers.
‘Why are you looking at me like a madman?’
I have lost a friend. Please, forgive me.
“Searching like that does not fail.
There will come a rider who holds you close.
You faint and gibber.
The uninitiated say, ‘He’s faking.’
How could they know?
Water washes over a beached fish,
the water on those signs I just mentioned.
“Excuse my wandering.
How can one be orderly with this?
It’s like counting leaves in a garden,
along with the song-notes of partridges and crows.
“Sometimes organization and computations become absurd.”
Rumi’s words speak to my heart. If you have not been initiated into grief’s dark waters these words might be confusing. But if you have, you know what it is.
To me Rumi so beautifully describes my first week. I could not sleep for tears. And when I did, I either dreamed of her with me to awake in shock at her absence, or dreamed nightmares of losing her. I woke at dawn, looking everywhere for her. I walked through a fog, so full of grief I did not know where I was at times.
I would look for her face everywhere, even when I was not looking. People would react as if something was wrong with me, especially those that did not know. And something was wrong, is wrong.
I remember coming home from my brother’s, who kept me the first few days after my dear Katharine died. I needed paperwork to file the death certificate with the crematory. So I came home. At that point the house terrified me, especially the bedroom where I had walked into find her lying dead that Friday morning.
When I came in, Kat’s medical alert dog whom a friend had been taking out a few times a day and feeding while I was gone, sat up on my return to the house, looking distressed. When her health acted up, he would alert her of the health problems with a number of alerts I couldn’t interpret. The only alert I knew was when he would sit up beside me and begin to slap me with his paw. It meant “something’s wrong with Kat’s body. I’m trying to tell her. I can’t her to respond”.
When I walked in that day, though he slept through Kat’s actual passing without a peep (which I take as a sign she did not suffer), he immediately began to alert me with this alert. Non-stop throughout the visit. My brother and my dear friend Terrence, both not the type to cry at the drop of a hat. both teared up when I saw this, got on my hands & knees beside the dog, and told him “I know, buddy. You’re right. There is something very wrong with her body. But there’s nothing we can do to fix it. We just have to trust she’s better now”.
That moment touched my heart and is part of why these dogs of hers are now like my own children. They know. They feel this. They’ve been through being lost in the maze of grief.
This is why I find such comfort in opening up & talking with people who are going through grief. It is part of why my work is comforting. These folk get what I’m going through. It is a real comfort to me.