Every February I learn again how grief, like joy, imprints on the spirit and resides in the body’s felt sense of memory, as surely as hallowed dates are recorded on the calendar.
My family has encountered several losses in the month of February. Decades ago, on Valentine’s Day, my father endured a massive stroke, which drastically redirected the rest of my parents’ lives. Of course, we were all changed; such events ripple forever in our choices and awareness. My mother cared for my father at home for years, and after his death, her own failing health led her here, to our home, where she died on a bleak muddy February 4th.
Our first beloved pup, sweet Idgi, was diagnosed with cancer and died way too young one February 20th.
None of these losses takes prominence over another. They all devastated our spirits, and each led to specific grief, lodged in our bodies and hearts.
Of course, as years pass, grief abates; it mutes and embeds itself deeply in our identity, dissipating, and we go on. Joys mend brokenness and integrate with our sorrows. Our lives and days fill with new relationships, connections, responsibilities, and experiences. As the anniversaries of our losses roll around, we may even forget they’ve returned once again.
But what I noticed so often in working with the spirits and healing of others has also become apparent in my own life: the emotional memory is alive and well, and is evidenced in physical and affective responses whether we are conscious of the reasons or not. And this is true regardless of the loss; it may be a death, a job loss, the end of a relationship, a stunning rejection, a surgery, or a damaging choice that engendered regret. Any stressful transition or experience can cause pain that’s profound and lasting. Our hearts and bodies remember; the memories are like scrapbooks stashed away on our psyche’s shelves. And often, anniversaries trigger the pages to fall open and come again to light. What we understood to have dissipated regathers and demands attention. This is gift: The heart yearns to heal and reminds us this is our responsibility.
Every January, I fill out a wall calendar, marking both our happy anniversaries and those that recall sorrow, so that over the new year I have a ready material guide to consult when feelings or physical symptoms mystify me. Calendar-keeping is a valuable annual practice to support my self-care and my ongoing healing. It also allows me to revel in the infinite blessings flowing through my life. And then, sometime in January, I forget to consult the calendar and its carefully-entered memories.
It’s surprising how busy we keep ourselves, even in lockdown. 2020 passed in a flash and it lasted forever; time became more ferociously mercurial than ever. Phillip and I both have interests and responsibilities we pursue that keep our days full and–with surprising frequency and ease–lead us to forget the date, the day, month, or year. We meditate, take time to rest, tend to self-care, but we’re both more present and future-oriented than content to dwell in memory.
And so, there are times when a physical pain, or spiritual darkness, a spell of anhedonia or discontent inexplicably arises, and we’re forced to be still and reflect on the cause. What’s going on here? Where, in my heart, is the answer? Often, the calendar reminds us of losses that slipped beneath our consciousness, and we find that listening again to our grief allows deeper healing and grants peace.
Blocked energy loosens, and loss, having been met and again acknowledged, relents. Many therapies can help with this: spiritual direction, meditation and prayer, therapeutic massage, gentle exercise and movement, free-writing, walking a labyrinth, creating a personal mandala…Encountering our losses and grief with love and deep listening also awakens our abilities to be companions to others encountering their own; it burnishes the good we may do in the world; it continually transforms us into more authentic, compassionate humans.
When I worked as a spiritual caregiver with cardiac patients, I often referred them to the wonderful resources found here, at HeartMath. And I continue to integrate these practices into my own life, because they work. I encourage you to visit the site and explore its riches, and to make part of your Valentine’s celebrations a peaceful time of gentle and compassionate self-care, a commitment to your own ongoing healing, and the health of your unique and loving heart.
A blessed Valentine’s Day to all! Be well and safe. Take great and gentle care of your blessings and grief, of your hearts and your healing, and please accept my gratitude for shining your lights brightly in our world, and encouraging the dark to recede.
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