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Loving from the Outside in Mourning from the Inside Out
By Alan D. Wolfelt
Center for Loss and Life TransitionCopyright © 2012 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
"We are all mirrors unto one another. Look into me and you willfind something of yourself, as I will of you."
— Walter Rinder
Love is a sacred partnership of communion with another human being. You take each other in, and even when you are apart, you are together. Wherever you go, you carry the person inside you.
Communion means the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially on a spiritual level. When two people love one another, they are connected. They are entwined.
The word "communion" comes from the Old French comuner, which means "to hold in common." Note that this is different than "to have in common." You may have very little in common with another person yet love them wholeheartedly. Instead, you hold things in common — that is, you consciously choose to share one another's lives, hopes, and dreams. You hold her heart, and she holds yours.
This experience of taking another person inside your heart is beyond definition and defies analysis. It is part of the mystery of love. Love has its own way with us. It knocks on our hearts and invites itself in. It cannot be seen, but we realize it has happened. It cannot be touched, yet we feel it.
When someone we love dies, then, we feel a gaping hole inside us. I have companioned hundreds of mourners who have said to me, "When she died, I felt like part of me died, too." In what can feel like a very physical sense, something that was inside us now seems missing. We don't mourn those who die from the outside in; we mourn them from the inside out.
"My sweetheart, you have aroused my passion. I am no longer separate from you"
The absence of the person you love wounds your spirit, creates downward movement in your psyche, and transforms your heart. Yet, even though you may feel there is now a "hole inside you," you will also come to know (if you haven't already) that those you love live on in your heart. You remain in communion with those you love forever and are inextricably connected to them for eternity.
Yes, you will grieve the person's absence and need to express your feelings of grief. You must mourn. You must commune with your grief and take it into your heart, embracing your many thoughts and feelings. When you allow yourself to fully mourn, over time and with the support of others who care about you, you will come to find that the person you lost does indeed still live inside you.
Love abides in communion — during life and after death. And mourning is communion with your grief. With communion comes understanding, meaning, and a life of richness.
Did you feel in communion with the person who died when he or she was alive?
Can you relate to what many mourners say: "When he (or she) died, I felt like part of me died too"? If so, why do you think that is?
How are you mourning from the inside out?
In what ways are you in communion with your grief?
Do you still feel in communion with the person who died?
"Duration alone does not bring this miracle, but unremitting devotion does"
— Hugh and Gayle Prather
"If you place two living heart cells from different people in a Petri dish, they will in time find and maintain a third and common beat.
— Molly Vass
"Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart, and the senses".
— Lao Tzu
"In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed'.'
— Khalil Gibran
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched — they must be felt with the heart."
— Helen Keller
"When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain."
— Mark TwainCHAPTER 2
Greater than the SUM OF ITS PARTS
"The most important business of life is love, or maybe it's the only one"
When you love another person, it can feel like one plus one equals three.
I'm sure you've heard the saying, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" Love is like that. Two people can come together and form a partnership that enables each person to be "more" in so many ways.
Here's another way to think about this idea: Love is like an orchestra. You may be a clarinet — a strong, fine wind instrument all by yourself. But when you surround yourself with other instruments, each of whom do the work of carrying their own parts and practicing their own music, together, as a group, you can blow the doors off the place.
I much prefer this expansive concept of love over the long-held reductionist belief that "two become one." If two become one, both participants in the relationship are diminished. Conversely, what truly feeds the soul of a loving relationship is expansion, mutual -nurturance, and growth.
Without doubt, being part of a synergistic, two-makes-three relationship, requires a conscious commitment. Did your relationship with the person who died feel enhancing or diminishing? In synergistic relationships, there has to be space and encouragement to be real and authentic. Were you empowered to be your true self or disempowered to be something you were not? Did your two make three, or did your two make you less than one? If so, perhaps you are now faced with mourning what you never had but wished you did. How human is that?
"When a 'me' and 'you' decide to become a couple, a new entity called 'us' comes into being".
— Gregory J.P. Godek
If, on the other hand, your relationship with the person who died made you greater than the some of your parts, what happens now that one of you is gone? You may feel diminished. You may feel empty. You may feel "less than" Your self-identity may even seem to shrink as you struggle with your changing roles. If you are no longer a wife or a husband (or a mother or a father, or a sister or a brother, or a daughter or a son), what are you?
Also, the experience of mourning can feel piecemeal — a cry here, a burst of anger there; a deep sadness today, a crush of guilt tomorrow. You might feel a sense of disorientation from the scattered and ever-changing nature of your grief.
But when you trust in the process of grief and you surrender to the mystery, you will find that mourning, like love, is also greater than the sum of its parts. Leaning into your grief and always erring on the side of expressing rather than inhibiting or ignoring your thoughts and feelings — no matter how random and disjointed they might seem some days — will bring you to a place of transformation. You will not just be different from the person you were before the death. You will be greater. Your experience of love and grief will create a changed you, a you who has not only survived but who has learned to thrive again in a new form and in a new way.
"Never is true love blind, but rather brings an added light"
— Phoebe Cary
And just as love connects you to others, so should grief. You need the listening ears and open hearts of others as you express your thoughts and feelings about the death. You need the support of others as you mourn.
Yes, love and grief are both greater than the sum of their parts. The lesson I take from this is that whenever you engage fully and openly in life, experiencing both the joys and the sorrows head-on, you are living the life you were meant to live.
In your relationship with the person who died, how were you together greater than the sum of your parts? (And if you weren't, why?)
How is your self-identity changing as a result of this death?
Does your mourning feel random or piecemeal? How so?
In what ways can you feel your grief symptoms and experiences adding up to a greater whole?
Are you trusting and opening yourself to the journey that is grief? How?
"No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it."
— H.E. Luccock
"Synergy is the highest activity of life; it creates new untapped alternatives; it values and exploits the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between people"
— Stephen Covey
"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much"
— Helen Keller
"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together"
— Desmond Tutu
Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart"
— Marcus AureliusCHAPTER 3
"Telling a story, especially about ourselves, can be one of the most personal and intimate things we can do"
— Richard Stone
How amazing is it that there will be no love exactly like the one you shared? No one will say your name just as this person did. No one will touch you in precisely the same way this person did. No one will smile at you in exactly the same way this person did. Your unique love was and is truly divine.
You rejoiced together in the unique pleasures of your relationship. What about this person and your relationship brightened your day? What made your heart glad to be with him? What did she bring to the dance of your life together?
Love unites us through shared experiences and open communication. How did you share experiences like birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries with your loved person? How did you celebrate the cycles of your love? How did you survive the crises and difficult times you lived through together? What were the uniquely good times and the uniquely bad times?
Authentic love invites each of us to embrace our own uniqueness, the uniqueness of the person who died, and the uniqueness of the relationship we shared. This recognition of the uniqueness is what made your relationship have energy and connection. This allowed you to share your love in an instinctual way that expressed a depth of feelings beyond words.
Of course, all of the unique qualities that defined your relationship in life will now also define your grief journey. So many factors go into determining the shape and depth of your loss: the circumstances of the death; your personality; the personality of the person who died; the measure of attachment between you; your past experiences with loss; your cultural and religious background; your gender; and many others. Just as your love was unique, so will be your grief.
"The wounds of the past must be tended by more than the frantic activity of getting on with it"
— Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Love is never the same twice and neither is grief. Each is a one-of -a-kind story, a snowflake in the history of humanity. Part of your work now is to embrace your story, even as it continues to unfold and evolve into something ever-new.
In fact, after someone you love dies, the creation of renewed meaning and purpose in your life requires that you "re-story" your life. As you know, your grief experience is unique and personal. Although even the most compassionate person cannot completely comprehend what this is like for you, you will find comfort and support when you surround yourself with people who will honor your story of love and loss.
The thoughts and feelings that bubble up when someone loved dies often feel heavy and overpowering. Expressing what this experience is like for you — telling the story of your love and your grief — is one way to release the pain that has pierced your heart. Expressing yourself can bring some light into the midst of the dark because it will allow you to feel heard, understood, and loved.
"You have a unique message to deliver, a unique song to sing, a unique act of love to bestow'.'
— John Powell
Find people who make you feel safe and will truly listen — who will let you share without trying to fix, take way, or distract you from what you are feeling. If telling your story is difficult for you, take time to write it out and then share it with someone. Consider drawing or making something that represents what your grief journey feels like. Perhaps you can communicate your story through art instead of words with someone who is able to simply take in what you are communicating. Share your story in whatever way feels natural to you.
Because stories of love and loss take time, patience, and unconditional love, they serve as powerful antidotes to a modern society that is all too often preoccupied with getting you to "let go," "move on," and "find closure." Whether you share your story with a friend, a family member, a coworker, or a fellow traveler in grief whom you've met through a support group, having others bear witness to the telling of your unique story is one way to go backward on the pathway to eventually going forward.
Honoring your one-of-a-kind story invites you to slow down, turn inward and create the sacred space to do so. Having a place to have your love story honored allows you to embrace what needs to embraced and come to understand that you can and will come out of the dark and into the light. You heal yourself as you tell the tale. This is the awesome power of the love story.
"This moment, this day, this relationship, this life are all exquisite, unique, and unrepeatable."
— Daphne Rose Kingma
In what ways was your relationship unique or special? Make a list. Be specific.
Have you found some people who are willing and able to help you "re-story" your life? If so, who are they and why do you feel safe with them?
As you go backward and honor your love story, what is that experience like for you?
Have you found yourself connecting with other people who also need to tell their love stories? If so, what is that like for you?
"Relationships are about trying. And learning. And working. And playing. And trying. And doing. And being. And loving"
— Gregory J.P. Godek
"Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren't any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn't be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life's challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes in the world come about. So be that person"
— Buckminster FullerCHAPTER 4
BEING IN Orbit
"Love consists in this ... that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other."
— Rainer Maria Rilke
I once heard someone say, "You don't fall in love, you orbit in love." Consider yourselves two separate planets, he said, each with your own gravity and path, sharing a part of the universe in which you orbit around each other, independent but with intertwining orbits.
I find much wisdom in his words because in space, the gravity of attraction and the impetus of separate momentum together are what create an orbit.
Are you familiar with the yin-yang symbol? It represents the synergetic combination of opposites. In it, light and darkness fit together in graceful curves — each containing a circle of the other within itself. Intertwined, they form a perfect circle, which itself is a universal symbol of infinity and wholeness.
Yes, loving relationships are a mysterious force between two universes. Just as planets are connected in the cosmic forces of synchronistic orbiting, the lives of two who love each other are interconnected. Each individual in the relationship has his own interests, experiences, friendships, and philosophies, yet the two share other important things, such as common values, senses of humor, and even genetics in cases of family members.
"There is no me without a you, no father and husband and lover without the counterpart of child, of wife, and beloved."
— I. Edward Kiev
But what happens to the synchronistic orbit of love when one of the orbiting bodies is physically gone from sight? What do you do with the love that remains?
Society often tells us that we should not continue to stay connected to someone who is no longer alive. We are often told to "put the past in the past" and "move on," as if we can and should stop loving the person who died.
Yet, it is in coming to understand the reality that love doesn't die that we create meaning to live into the future. I believe that continuing to love and mourning the death are not mutually exclusive. Actually, integrating loss into our lives means having the courage to continue to love, even in the face of loss.
"Real love stories don't have endings".
— Gregory J.P. Godek
Yes, we may feel like we have this love but no place to put it. In part, grief becomes our experience of not having our love received. And yet, we continue to love because anyone we have ever internalized, or taken in, is never truly lost. Even in acknowledging the loss, something soulful remains. The person has become a part of the fabric of our being.
As long as we are alive, we have both the instinct and the capacity to continue to love, even when someone is no longer a part of our daily reality. We can authentically mourn this profound loss even as we consciously value what we have taken in from this person we continue to love. To do this demands that we challenge many of the notions that our society projects about grief and loss: That we must "let go" and "resolve" our grief. That what we can no longer see is gone. That what we can no longer touch doesn't live on. That people who love each other are irrevocably parted by death.
Excerpted from Loving from the Outside in Mourning from the Inside Out by Alan D. Wolfelt. Copyright © 2012 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Center for Loss and Life Transition.
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