“When the heart weeps at what it has lost
The soul laughs at what it has found.”
A Sufi proverb
I heard Eckhart Tolle repeat this in a video clip that a friend sent me the other day only he said, “When the ego weeps…”. In either version, it is a truth I understand far better since my husband Richard died two years and almost two months ago. At the time, there was weeping, knee-collapsing howling, and a wish for an entire tribe of ululating women to match the pitch of wailing required to express my loss. What was unexpected, was the subsequent and now simultaneous arising of soulful jubilation.
Having lurched through the portal of such a devastating life-changing loss, there was a profound sense of peace and liberation (inadequate, approximate words) that followed. Flowing into the gaping hole torn by grief was a sweet, equally intense joy. I was so fortunate that Richard and I had little unfinished business left to attend to. I was relatively free of guilt, or many “if only-s”. As both psychotherapists and spiritual partners, we worked hard all of our lives to learn of our own faults and forgive ourselves and one another for our ever-struggling humanity.
When tumors in his brain resulted in surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, his old capacity for processing or comprehending that level of work between us rapidly dwindled. The whole last eighteen months of his life did not allow for such deep endeavors anymore. Other aspects of his being remained- his sense of humor, his dedication to finishing outdoor projects he had begun, his delight in ice cream after his taste for food disappeared, and his love and acknowledgement of love given and received by his friends, family and caregivers.
Having learned that hearing is the last sensory perception to go after the final breath is gasped, I lay on one side of his body, my daughter on the other, for an hour whispering into his ear as his soul departed farther and farther away from this earth plane. I chanted the Heart Sutra mantra *over and over, “Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha”, and many other more intimate sendings that arose spontaneously in my final moments of releasing our attachments to one another. I felt complete when I arose from his bed and saw the stillest version of his pale body left behind.
I also felt the magnetic pull of wherever it is we arrive and depart from so close, vibrating like threads of light and music all around me. The living room with the hospital bed, oxygen, commode, and medications, was only a temple for the sacred human beings left behind after their rituals of death.
In this time of great grief and loss of what we took as normal, I am also making room for the laughter of my soul. I am less preoccupied with having to do as much as I already felt obligated to do in this very busy and dynamic “retirement” community. I am laughing at my zoom dinner with family and friends (please pass the salt?), zoomed Quaker meeting, and have joined a new Buddhist sangha in Oberlin also via zoom, one I could never get to attend in person before this. I am laughing at my grandson Max on daily Face Time check-ins as he discovers his toes and his voice. I am laughing at the precious springtime awakening in the enclosed garden available to me. I laugh at my ego scrambling in dismay as once again it is thwarted in its chartered course to control life. I laugh and cry as I see, as never before, the world swept by sorrow and the joyful opportunity to stay open-hearted together in this crisis.
*I like this short reference and in it there is also a laugh. https://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln260/Heartmantra.htm