Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving

Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving

by Molly Fumia


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, April 29

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573245463
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 08/01/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 172,372
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 6.86(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Molly Fumia holds a master's degree in theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. The author of Honor Thy Children, Safe Passage, and A Piece of My Heart, books on the transformative nature of grief, she lives with her husband and seven children in Los Gatos, California.

Read an Excerpt

Safe Passage

words to help the grieving

By Molly Fumia

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2012 Molly Fumia
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-545-9



"Consolation springs from sources deeper far than deepest suffering."


Walking by the sea, I pick up a starfish that is missing an arm. Losing you has been like that, like a limb actually was torn from my body.

As I gently place it back on the sand, I notice that despite the cruel amputation, a marvelous and beautiful creature has survived. And I remember the miracle of the starfish: the arm will grow back, and it will be whole once again.

There is an instant between awakening and awareness that I float free of remembrance and reality. For only a moment, things are as they were, and this present pain is not at all.

I wish not to move on, but to stay safe in that nothingness, to linger, while I can, just ahead of the dreaded truth.

The center of my grief is like the dead of winter; the white, frozen stillness surrounds me, a deep, interior chill pervades my body. I am terrified that I will always be this cold.

The slight warming wind that will unsettle the ice is not yet perceptible.

I cry and I cry. I respond to every turn of the day with tears, wondering, now and then, how my incessant weeping appears to those around me. It is coming clear to me. Only tears encourage time to pass. Only tears anoint the endless waiting with tender hope that the days to follow might flow more kindly into understanding.

I am so tired. These callous circumstances have stolen away my energy and my motivation. I am left without the power to continue moving; I can hardly imagine the strength even to stand in place.

I want only to give in to my exhaustion, to sleep and sleep until I can wake up to another, less evil reality.

What is it like, this place set aside for grieving? It is wherever we are surrounded by the darkness. And where does the healing begin? Huddled in the dark, listening to long-lost voices, not yet searching for the light.

I wake, haunted by a searing sense of the unfinished. By how things might have been. If only I possessed the magic power to give us a second chance. But I am no wizard; the trick I must perform is to accept what is.

This pain is a companion, but can it ever become something more? The answer is in my ability to befriend my own experience.

"In dealing with fear, the way out is in."

—Sheldon Kopp

Grief is not passive, but active. Grief reveals and challenges while it deals with the horrible facts. It lends itself to truth in a way that no other emotion can. It identifies all of the participants in tragedy and allows them their role in the universe.

And in all of this, I now somehow take my place.

We struggled so hard to be together, and now we are apart once more. I can't imagine starting over with someone else. You were my last destination.

A kaleidoscope of feelings has ensnared me. Denial, anger, guilt, despair, acceptance. One does not end for another to begin, rather the emotions tumble about and crash together just beyond control, and without regard for my wounded, weeping heart.

I am waiting to become disentangled. I want to separate one color from another, so that I might see more clearly what assaults me. I want to address the fullness of my tears one feeling at a time.

They tell me to take it easy, give yourself time, just sit for a while. But that doesn't work. They tell me to keep busy, go on a trip, take up something new. That doesn't work either. To do nothing, to do everything. Nothing works. Nothing works.

Mourning is like re-entering the womb. We find a dark place where we can weep unheeded and become whole in our own time. Emptiness turns to hope in this safe refuge, this comforting cavern echoing endings and beginnings, slowly transformed again into a passageway to our other, older life.

I was shocked that I did not die from grief. And I know now that I will not die from it, because I choose not to. I may run, or shake wildly, or lie paralyzed on the ground for a while, but I will not ultimately succumb.

I find myself going over and over the details of your death with everyone I know. To speak and speak again of this event proclaims its awful truth to me, perhaps not yet quite convinced, perhaps not sure of my place in its unfolding.

And so I allow this repetition, knowing that words are possibilities—of explanation, of comprehension, of absolution. My testimony, once familiar, will reassure my trembling, still questioning heart.

"Understanding does not cure evil, but it is a definite help, inasmuch as one can cope with a comprehensible darkness."

—Carl Jung

If only I could have spoken to him before he chose to end a life. It would only have taken a few minutes to tell him about us, to describe the ways we all love each other, to paint a picture of our happiness and our innocence.

I could have changed his mind. He would have understood that she deserved to live. I would have looked into his eyes and made him see himself in mine, and he would have decided differently.

Even though I am surrounded by friends, I think about images of the past that are still present for me.

Which of these ghosts, if any, deserves my attention? It seems unkind to banish them all from among the living, from a place that was once theirs.

But I want to laugh again, to participate once more in lively conversation. While I welcome those memories that have been invited, I will eventually close the door on those which haunt me.

I haven't eaten in days. Eventually, I'll have to eat. When I feel like eating again, I hope I won't feel guilty, but will respect my sense that it is all right for me to live, even though you have died.

Running from my grief, I am not silent or still long enough to let it in. But the fullness of existence is facing both life and death, and taking the risks involved in that confrontation.

To have loved you is to have opened up to a willingness to feel your loss. This is the time of reckoning. I must stop to feel my sorrow.

How are you how are you how are you. Fine fine fine.

Not fine.... Terrible.

She tells me to call and we'll have lunch or go shopping. She says I have to do something, but those aren't the things I want to do.

I know what I want to do. I want to cry and cry shamelessly and I want her to hold me while I'm doing it.

Grief is a trail of dreams, fulfilled and unfulfilled, all that could have been, never can be again. On this forlorn night walk, the path to new promises is still beyond the horizon, awaiting the hazy, yet inevitable, future.

I am disoriented by death. I do not know where I have been or where I am going. The familiar landmarks are out of view, coldly covered by death's icy grip.

My confusion has, at least, demanded that I cease moving. Standing still will restore my sense of direction, and what remains of my inner fire will warm the way toward healing.

I am afraid to be angry. Rage betrays the need to accept what has happened. Yet I am also afraid to accept. Acquiescence might suggest that I have given in to fate and to the injustice of your being taken from me.

Despite the taboo on anger, I sense that I have that right, even though fury will not alter the facts. It is not "I understand, but I am furious." It is "I understand and I'm furious."

For now, to survive, I choose both acceptance and indignation. Then even though your loss will never be okay, someday I will be.

We need a grieving room for all of us who are mourning, a quiet, safe place of solace where emotion is sacred and the continual falling of tears generates the energy for our healing.

We need a grieving room with thick walls to keep despair outside and hope secure within, and, on the floor, comfortable pillows to remind us to rest.

"Life is a tragic mystery. We are pierced and driven by laws we only half understand ... we find that the lesson we learn again and again is that of accepting heroic helplessness."

—Florida Scott-Maxwell

A friend of mine suggested that when I feel lost and don't know what to do next, I should quiet myself with the question, "What is needed now?" The answer will not only be a first step out of my present confusion, but also a lasting gift to myself.

The incredible pain of some ritual of the daily....

Your clothes came back from the cleaners. Your dentist appointment is still tacked onto the refrigerator. The spaces in my calendar are full not only of the things we have done, but also the things we still have to do. How could I have been so fooled? When I noted each event on the page, I had thought its certainty to be assured.

As I touch again and again the still-warm body of the life we had, I torture myself with longing for the ordinary. I am trying to endure each pain patiently; despite the shards of simple things, I sense that a new, more gracious reality might await me.

Sleeping, which used to relieve the fullness of the day, has become just another difficult task. I first avoid my bed, knowing that if I stop moving, memories will sneak into my fading consciousness and force a sob up into my throat.

Other nights I lie awake for hours—feeling nothing, but still unable to capture sleep. Or I wake in the predawn darkness, hoping desperately that the clock has moved toward morning.

I was not prepared for sleep to be an enemy. What I need now is a friend, and a way to rest my weary spirit.

Long ago we were taught to ignore grief rather than enter into it. Simply to hang on mindlessly until it is over.

But this old precept cannot bear the weight of profound experience. Neat categories cannot accommodate the muddle of mature emotion. To get through grief, we let go rather than hang on, watching for the inner counselor who will guide us, ever mindful of the process that will slowly, patiently lead us where we need to go.

What ever happened to happily ever after? As it turns out, that was the cruelest part of the fairy tale.

Hope is hearing the melody of the future; faith is dancing to it today."

—Ruben Alvez

I lie around with nowhere to go, like a crumpled, discarded coat. The pursuits of the past fail to interest me in the bitter present. All the color has gone out of the world; life has been redone in grays, dull and uninviting.

But while today it seems appropriate to give in to mourning, I notice the slowly widening pastel of the horizon. This sorrow will not be forever. I will have somewhere to go again, and new interests to draw me there.

All in good time, they say. And even now, while time stands stubbornly still, I know that it is true.

I will not blame God or destiny for my loss. Instead I will ask God to weep with me and encourage destiny to favor me with another hand.

Isolation is the worst-case scenario of grieving.

They say that my pain begs to be shared; yet I seem to be pulling away, separating from everyone. Only by avoiding feelings can I come close to another. Only by avoiding others can I bear to feel.

The way back to intimacy requires crossing a killing field of emotion. I will risk it eventually, and perhaps those who wait for me on the other side will find returning to them a less fearful, more trusting spirit.

"I hear a voice within me telling me to stop mourning the past. I too want to sing of love and of its magic. I too want to celebrate the sun, and the dawn that heralds the sun."

—Elie Wiesel

The loss of someone we love is an imprisonment. We give over our freedom and lock ourselves up inside, with nothing to do but dwell on the event that has condemned us.

This confinement will not last; the weapons of the human spirit, reflection and imagination, will eventually demand our release. Our yearning for the old life will yield to our imagining of the new, and the anguish that has so bound us will gently fall away.

You are my enemy; my rage is unending.

I know it is unhealthy. But I can't stop wanting to find you and tie you down and spend days telling you what you took away from me. I would pummel you with the truth until you wept. And then I would open up and drench you with the rest of my feelings, until you were drowning in regret.

Just when you were screaming for air, I would let you go. I would watch you crawl away. If I have to live in the aftermath of what you've done, so must you.

The something that is not lost, even when the other person is gone, is the self. This may be an ending, but it is not the end.

Trust pain as well as comfort, perhaps more.

For in pain we notice everything; in comfort there is no need to be alert.

Believe, therefore, in your pain. Be present to it. Own it. The most deeply felt discomfort will not obscure your vision of redemption but clarify it, until it is fitting to be comfortable again.

Getting through the day is like walking through a minefield of deadly moments of recollection.

Just when I have slipped beneath the surface of remembering, drawn there by the benevolent distractions of daily life, the grim new reality suddenly explodes around me, reminding me that everything is terribly, permanently different. And I must absorb the same first brutal shock, the same descending horror, over and over again.

I am deceived by those instances of forgetfulness, yet I am obviously not ready to live every moment with the inalterable truth.

In the absence of explanation, of understanding, of meaning, I find myself returning to the simple truths of childhood.

And just as I did as a child, I will slip my hand into God's hand for that familiar feeling of comfort and reassurance.

I lie in the dark, aware that in the distance, the music of life is playing. Even in my grieving for you, I am drawn to the sounds and my body begins to stir.

Your voice, next to me in the night, gives me a little nudge. "Go ahead. Dance."

So I stand up, still clothed in darkness, and hold up my arms. A long twirl, a low dip. Silently, I come to life like a marionette who has been touched by magic.

Please don't give me away—not yet. I'm not ready for anyone else to know I'm dancing in the darkness.

Did you wait to leave me until you felt me let you go? I didn't want to, you know, and would have fought forever had it not been for your eyes. "It's okay," they said to me, clear and certain, even as they began to close.

Thank you for giving me that. I know you would have preferred to stay; I was ready to hold you here. But we decided that a lifetime of relationship was more worthy of a long, knowing embrace than a bewildered, bitter parting. We could not fear too greatly for the end of love when we are the proof of its continuation.

In recent, endless days, feelings have overtaken me, until I know the very in and out of my breathing would cease without the energy of emotion. Long ago I would have doubted my chances for survival in this explosive state. But I have learned to trust the resilience of my own spirit, that place of power from which feelings come. I have learned to look for healing in the logic of the heart.


"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain."

—Kahlil Gibran

I begin at the beginning, examining each frame of memory. Images of another time rage in my stormy awareness, and I am jolted with searing sprays of inexorable change.

As hurt washes over me, I am tempted to abandon this cruel immersion. But I stay here, shivering, clinging to comprehension that is still raw, believing that my very presence in these cold waters of remembrance will soon turn them warm and soothing.

I am fighting a cauldron of feelings that stir violently within me. Emotion is, indeed, my enemy. It keeps everything from returning to the way it was. Easy and unexamined. The way I planned it.

And yet, I am tempted to give in. My emotions are too large, and the plan has all but disappeared. If I come to know this enemy, perhaps I will find in the very pouring out of feelings a better friend than the delusion of control.

You are gone and my grief, as was our love, is not really public. It was a decision we made to keep us safe, we said, from some of those who love us, and all of those who don't.

But the grief I feel for you is large, and loud, and threatening to burst out of me and paint everything the colors of who we were. Know that I would do that for you, make posters and take out ads telling everyone about our gorgeous, great love. Give me a sign, my beloved, and I will do it.

I am imprisoned in a cell of loneliness. There is no way out, except for the unexpected touch of others. Their affection will guide me down the passageway to my freedom. Their encouragement will illuminate the way.

I lie awake at night, tortured by a barrage of questions that pick at my flesh like tiny birds with sharp beaks:

Why me? Why now? What have I done to deserve this? What could I have done to prevent this cruel parting?

Unanswerable questions. All I can do is let them flow through me, rather that pick raw my tender skin. Oh yes, here they are again, my night visitors.

We need to honor the truth of our experience, whatever it is—anger at the person who died, rage at God, guilt at being alive.

Surveying the horizon of our emotions lets us know how and where we are wounded.

We gather inside a building to celebrate life in spite of death. I welcome the transformation: a door has become a passageway to hope, mere walls, a fortress of faith.

Excerpted from Safe Passage by Molly Fumia. Copyright © 2012 Molly Fumia. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents










Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews