When We Connect (Part 2)

Grief is a spiral, not a line that goes from here to there. There is no “there,” only here. I still bristle when I hear people talk of “moving on,” though I know it’s said out of a naiveté about death. I am not nostalgic for that time in my life, when death was a concept, not an experience. I have no wish to be innocent. That’s what I love about a wide-eyed child, a nursing baby, a puppy, a kitten – their purity and innocence. Maybe why I ache for them is because it won’t last. Life will make sure of that. Whatever I’ve gone through has been inevitable, and none of it is anything I want to go through again.


What is it that happens when we feel the relief of connection with others? I talked about that in my last. I think what happens when we feel that close to someone is that we recognize something within ourselves. We feel our worth, our value; we feel love. To feel that love is to understand that is what we’re here for. If we can feel that through another, then we know it exists within – and so we feel connected to ourselves. But how strange is that – when I feel love, I feel connected to my-self. So who is the I, and who is the self? Am I two, or am I one? I think of the “I” as the watcher, the constant presence. It’s different from my personality, from my reactions. It is the presence that observes what I do and what I feel. Think about it. Think about the past. When you do, you’re remembering moments that occurred in time. But the “I” that is remembering is outside of time – it is always there and has always been.

As a human being I am subject to rules and conventions. As a spiritual being I have an aspect that’s timeless and changeless, where the laws of this world do not apply. It’s up to me how to integrate these two. It’s up to me to take that spiritual dimension as seriously as I take my humanity.

I’ve had moments that are breaks with the world as I see it. A truth is realized, there’s a shift in perception. And a shift in perception of the world is a relief. Those moments connect me to life and do not necessarily require the presence of another. The question, then, is do I trust enough to take the risk of belief? My ego is not so keen on truth.

I have a niece who died from brain cancer. I wrote a bit about it here. Nicole was only four years old. She’d developed a rare cancer that at the time had only been seen in 60 children in the country, all of whom died. The doctors tried an experimental protocol with her – remove the tumor, then four months of chemo followed by a bone marrow transplant. Three months later the cancer was back. In another three months she was dead.

After that, trying to find some perspective about death, I started to read “Who Dies” by Stephen Levine. I did not consider that one day I would be in the same position as my brother – I was simply trying to understand. At the time, I lived in a large five-room apartment in Brooklyn. This particular day I was in the back of the apartment, in my bedroom, reading Levine. Outside my bedroom was the hall that led to the kitchen, where my mom, who had come to visit, was cooking. Philip, then four, and Natalie, about one-and-a-half, were in the living room watching TV.

It was a winter evening; such a lovely word for the transition between day and night. There’s a mental winding down, a break from the day’s madness. Lying on my bed reading, I could hear the vegetables being chopped, the furious boiling of the water as it waited impatiently for the pasta. The sounds of being taken care of – for just a while I could be the child, waiting for my mother to have dinner ready.

In his book, Levine has a Tibetan meditation on the process of dying. You imagine yourself dying, imagine your body dissolving. So I laid on my back, closed my eyes and relaxed, let go of my body until it no longer felt like pretending. That’s when I started to panic. I was too deep in the darkness to come out of it. All I could think of was my kids. Who was going to raise my kids? My husband would work it out, but no one would love and tend to them like me. Wait, stop – I can’t die yet. They’re going to grow up – I’m not going to see them grow up. This can’t be happening. Except it seemed to yes, really be happening and I could not control it. They were slipping away too quickly and my arms were not long enough to reach them.

Yet in an instant there was a shift. I took a breath and let go. What was happening to me was happening. No point arguing. My children would be fine. My time had come and they were no longer my responsibility. My work was to take the risk of letting all that I knew go, because there was no other way. And I did and I knew peace – the peace of being with what is so. The great and willing leap into the darkness. Swiftly it came, and swiftly it went.

When I have to die, that is the way I want to go. The practice is here, now. The non-resistance of the circumstances of my life. Accept it, leave it, or change it. I recognized that moment of peace, and I have had many since. But swiftly they come and swiftly they go. That great peace of just being. Of breathing. And that is the way to deal with Philip’s death…but that is a darkness I’m still arguing with.

Next, Part 3.

© 2015 Denise Smyth


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. New John
    Sep 05, 2015 @ 10:01:22

    Denise, you write beautifully, as always. And you touch on such important issues.

    “That’s what I love about a wide-eyed child, a nursing baby, a puppy, a kitten – their purity and innocence. Maybe why I ache for them is because it won’t last.”

    Since Jack’s death, I’ve found myself touched by the sight of kids more than ever. Each baby and child I see, I feel a melancholy and . . . it’s tough to characterize — maybe protectiveness is the word? — that I didn’t feel before.

    I can’t help but want to protect them and help them be happy. Even the kids of perfect strangers as they pass in the mall or at the park.

    Life has a preciousness I hadn’t appreciated before.


  2. Trackback: The Magic of Life | New John for a New Year
  3. Denise
    Sep 06, 2015 @ 20:33:53

    Thank you so much for linking to my post. I feel just as you do – when I see children I’ve such a mix of feelings. Longing, loving, anxiety, loss; most often I have to turn away because it reminds me. I miss Philip so much…and I am sorry that you know exactly what I mean.

    Peace to you, my friend; I wish you whatever peace you can find.


  4. lensgirl53
    Sep 08, 2015 @ 14:36:49

    Long before my son passed from this darkness into God’s heavenly light I thought of “growing up” as a form of death. All things change right before our eyes. Our children are no longer able to be in that innocence for long…we are not either. Life is a process right up until our final transformation. It is a preparedness that is so very difficult to comprehend sometimes, most especially the pain. Love to you, Denise.


  5. Denise
    Sep 09, 2015 @ 19:05:27

    So good to hear from you, Dale. Yes, all things change and our work is to accept it. Back and forth I go…because I miss Philip even though he’s here. I want to hug him, Dale; I want to hear his voice. But accept – in some way – is our work. It just feels so lonely sometimes. Much love back to you Dale – you’ve an innocence about you that shines.


  6. jmgoyder
    Sep 09, 2015 @ 20:45:12

    I learn so much from you Denise!


  7. Denise
    Sep 09, 2015 @ 21:56:28

    There is no better compliment than that – thank you, dear Julie.


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