A colleague of mine at our counseling agency had a brother who had become a Buddhist monk. He was visiting with her, so she invited us for an evening of meditation and conversation at her home. The group was eclectic, and the time spent in group meditation was centering and calming in the midst of a rather hectic work week. In retrospect, though, the evening was eclipsed by a television news story that broke that same evening regarding a horrific traffic accident.
At that time, the grief counseling agency where we worked was a major crisis intervention and grief support provider for the region. I mostly stopped watching the news entirely, since it would often foreshadow the events of the next work day and keep me from resting. On that same evening of centering meditation, however, we could not avoid the news of an accident between a tractor-trailer truck and a van carrying disabled passengers coming home from a sheltered workshop. Only the centered place where I’d spent a portion of the evening allowed my body to rest that night.
The next day, those of us working for the agency met together and reviewed the community requests for crisis intervention and bereavement support. At times of crisis, we all were deployed in some fashion based on availability, expertise, or need. Sometimes we went in pairs, but this time there were more requests than personnel. So, I drove myself to a group home for adults with developmental disabilities where two of the residents had died in the traffic accident. I do not have special expertise working with people with developmental disabilities; but I do have the pleasure of having a lifelong friend with a developmental disability. Our growing up together, and our knowledge and support of each other over the years gave me fuel to understand what the people I was about to spend the day with might be experiencing.
I acknowledge that my memories of crisis response are generally a blur; adrenaline has a way of dulling the detailed long term memory which is actually psychologically helpful. However, there was one incredible moment during this otherwise tragic day that has remained with me since, a bright light in the midst of a dark day. That point of light…and love…is today’s reflection.
All the residents of the group home were invited to a support and processing group. Most of the people attending had some intellectual and cognitive challenges, but all were first and foremost human beings with deep, grieving hearts. I chose to run this group as I would any other: with integrity, factual knowledge, supportive reassurance, toleration of all emotions, and processing of all feelings. We went around and told stories of who each person was, how each person was feeling, and how each person remembered their friend and co-resident. Some people were talkative, some were silent. One woman cried, and her friends put their arms around her. She described one of the men who died as her boyfriend. She asked if she could go to her room and get something to share.
She came back into the circle and showed us a painted, ceramic heart. He had made it for her a few weeks ago, for Valentine’s Day. She held the heart out and showed it to everyone.
“My heart is broken. But his heart is still here with me.”
Her words spoke truth that day, and brought me back to the same centered moment where I was the day before. The deep, abiding humanness of love, and of loss.
We feel deep loss because we have experienced deep love. We can rage at the reasons (or lack thereof), we can cry at the felt injustice, we can feel relief when pain and suffering ends, we can feel guilt or regret for words said or actions left undone. The human emotions are seemingly endless.
But, once we love deeply, that heart remains with us. Through life. Through death. It changes who we are to the core, and doesn’t leave us even when those we love are no longer here to share our common spaces of life. Love remains.
There is no brighter light than that realization, spoken in simple and elegant words that have resonated in my heart ever since.
Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thine arm: For love is strong as death. (Song of Solomon 8:6)