“This longing you express
is the return message.
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.”
~ From “Love Dogs” as translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi.
Hours before I’d been to a wake.
The man who died was not yet 50. He’d left a hard-working, feisty and devoted wife, his flock of pigeons, and a sweet dog, who like him, came from Ireland.
It was bad and sad.
And worse…he was a father too.
His nine-year-old daughter is a girl I drive home from school three days a week, to deliver her to the door of her dad who was disabled with heart failure.
Or rather, I did and never will again.
What words can I find, form, give or share?
My daughter goes to the first wake she’s ever been to, gives hugs and pays respect to a man loved and young and needed.
My hand on her shoulder. No words for her.
But the little girl who lost her dad—I can only hug. Words sink deeper down and hide.
As we go I hug again, and that is all it seems there is.
I grab three mints as we leave the funeral home and shove the sweetness onto my tongue as if to say, “There is still delight in this f*cking world.”
But it’s forced. The tears that won’t form are what I taste in my dry mouth.
In the car I place my hand on my daughter’s shoulder.
It’s sunny, but we shake our heads back and forth, like windshield wipers crossing minds and time.
Side to side—rhythmic:
Summer will be long…
We struggle with the why now. We wonder about the moment his body was found, the loss, the shock and the future pain.
No solutions or resolution.
I reach for them though. I want to treat loss like a bug I can catch before it stings us—and can’t.
Loss takes us all.
Sometimes we scratch a mosquito bite wound, and other times we’re dealing with amputation.
As mother, I guide my girl on being there for others in grief. I tell her—and mean it—none of us knows how long we have on this planet.
But I don’t feel wise or grateful or ready to appreciate the moment.
I want to, but I’m lonely for a life extinguished and out of reach. Not only his but all the ones that have and will follow and the knowledge that this is how it goes and always will.
Though 45 minutes later, my girl is center stage and singing at a concert—I am flat and numb. She sings “Lean on Me” and it takes everything within myself to not run out to the car, crawl in the backseat and sob so I can feel human again.
Instead I clap, look and wave and make small talk.
Then we leave, and split a pizza because I can’t manage making dinner.
“We had to pick wake appropriate outfits that worked at a spring concert,” I said to my friend the next morning.
“Such a life moment,” she said, attending to duties, details and sadness all in one moment.
He wasn’t my friend. It’s not my loss. But I ache for his wife and their daughter.
I know it’s possible to live without a dad—I did.
There will be no father-daughter dances at school or weddings, no stern talks to boyfriends or pride over prom dresses or published writing or good grades. There will be no changing tire lessons.
Old and new pain pile up on my heart plate—compassion too, that is only incubating, and can’t sit up, walk or crawl.
I don’t want to project or presume to know how much her life has changed—but it feels as though what was last week is a piece of paper that was accidentally shredded and is now gone, with only slivers undecipherable remaining.
This is the time and the moment when before bed I turn my tender heart over to an old seasoned one…
I need my Rumi.
He is who I crave when there’s no solace or respite from being human that I can call up.
His words are in volumes, poems, books and quotes.
I reach for him and them.
They are set out by my bed, as sacred and common as the water for the night’s thirst.
This is faith, I guess, in practice.
Mourning poem-prayer-whispers and confessions I make to the pages.
Rumi, the stranger-father-preacher-poet who reaches me and pats my shoulder from the spirit realm.
Someday we’ll be together.
I need his words to remind me sadness is acceptable, holy and ancient.
He honors longing and celebrates sorrow. Longing is not failure, flaw or weakness. Longing might be lifelong and not punishment or failure. It’s the same with grief.
In fact, it’s a sacred gift—real and mystically necessary.
He is warrior-saint-knower who nurtures, tended and gives succor to wounds, babies, fevers, dreams and lovers.
He lets me curl into him, and takes my naked heart, dressing it slowly.
He strokes my hair with ancient fingers—sensual and soothing, but not sexual.
Rumi is a giver and a lover, but when I’m sad, he brings only tissue, tea and comfort.
He shares the offer of relief without the promises of only ease.
I trust him.
I don’t always know how to live in a culture which still treats pain as an aberration and death as a surprise ending.
He doesn’t give a bullet list or 10 things to do to feel good fast. It’s better than an empty hit of the sort of cheery nothingness that evaporates.
In hard times his words wait like a soul-friend-blanket to warm my chilled-churned-chaotic soul.
In bed I turn to him, and he catches me again.
He digs in and under the dirt of depth and says: Crawl in all of the way and curl up with me.
they share a a pillow too.
My heart rests in his verses when it’s too heavy for me to pick up.
Rumi calls me back to the space I know exists but can’t feel, believe or inhabit.
He lifts me to the spirit realm for a moment, a paternal figure, and my feet come off the ground like a little girl.
For a moment, I’m a sad human who is held, buoyed and soul sutured.
For a millisecond I can sense a place where there is no space, difference or distance and then—and only then—he puts me back to bed with the moon, to sleep.
I rise the next day with more wonder, awe and patience.
Grown up and into woman form.
I wake, sit and stretch before my feet hit the floor.
Rendered whole—restored by Rumi.
The facts of this life have not changed, but I’m able to grieve and breathe at the same time.
With a bow to my bedside books and rituals and visitor from that mystical one, I rise again.
Rumi is beloved by millions, but there are times when he alone is the who-what I require.
Author: Christine “Cissy” White
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/James Jordan