Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Time Travelling

So, a couple of days ago I did something I thought was. . . . unwise. I telephoned my ex. Earlier in the day I'd come upon a note in my date book. It said, “Six months since explosion,” referring to the night I received the news that ended my marriage. I'd written it in my calendar a week after that night, hoping that when I came upon it in October I would be able to say, “Wow, I haven’t thought about that in days.” Ha! Clearly, after ten years together, a six month time-line for moving completely out of the grief and pain of the separation was. . . .overly optimistic.

So, disappointed that I was not pain-free and pretty sure that contact was a bad idea, I dialed the phone number that used to be my own. I had not spoken to him in a month. I'm not sure what I expected. It felt like something I needed to do.

The conversation my ex and I had was almost identical to conversations we'd had six days and six weeks after the night we'd separated. I heard us both say the same things, express the same hurt, guilt, regret and bewilderment although admittedly our words lacked the fire they had once held.

After I hung up I just sat there for a few moments in my apartment, silent and unmoving as if I was waiting for something. And then, I got it: we were done.

I once read an article about how different forms of life live at different speeds. When you cut down a tree it does not die instantly and in fact may be alive- producing new leaves- a year later. It dies slowly. I think about this as I experience and observe both the spiral of grief and the slow healing in my own life. The truth is I’m not sure we really know how emotional healing happens, but I am watching carefully in the hope that along with feeling more whole and enthused about my own life, I may be able to glean some new insights that will help me in my work with others.

So, here’s today’s six month observation: it has taken me six months to really see- to know- the reality of what has happened. I mean, I felt the pain, but it has taken me six months to really get that the marriage is over, that the dream I shared with this other to co-create a life and a home, to spend the rest of our lives together is finished. Now, I may be a slow learner, and I am not saying I have gotten it “once and for all,” although there does seem to be some stability in the knowing that was not there over the initial months when I would spiral through and then away from this knowledge. Earlier, I simply could not fully take in the reality of what had happened.

Surely this is part of the healing: being able to see what is, to grasp what has been lost, what has been injured, what has died and what remains. Because we cannot heal what has not been grieved, and we cannot grieve the loss that has not been experienced. And we can’t experience something fully until we do. That’s probably the hardest part: the unpredictability of how long it will take to grasp loss and change at all levels of our being. It doesn’t happen all at once, but in bits and pieces: I see an art exhibit or eat at a restaurant I know Jeff would have enjoyed, and I feel the impulse to turn and share it with him, (and delight in his pleasure) and then I remember that I can’t; I have a hard day and my muscles anticipate curling up to be held in familiar arms, and then realize those arms are no longer available. And slowly, as the new reality is faced and felt, what is sinks in.

I’ve always loved the quote by Suzuki Roshi: “We don’t need to learn to let go. We need to recognize what is already gone.” But it takes time to recognize what is gone, to absorb loss, to see and feel the new normal and make our internal and external adjustments. Often we have to tell the story of our loss to others in order to recognize what is gone. That’s what memorial services and funerals are often about: sharing stories of the loss we share so we can support each other in recognizing what is gone.

Healing happens if we allow it to, and it starts at least in part with our willingness to see and experience our losses. And sooner or later, if we are willing to be touched by grace and guided by the impulse for healing that is in our very DNA, we will be able to see and experience the loss, to know the wound fully. We may wake up in tears or wail at the moon, but it will be bearable. And healing will happen. And we will know again both our own wholeness and the larger Mystery in which we participate.


  1. Oriah, thank you for this post. I am not going through a divorce (although I did a decade ago), but I am going through a serious health issue. What you wrote about loss resonates with my feelings of loss about my life prior to my illness. Thank you for the assurance that healing does happen.

  2. I am struck by the beauty, the truth and the vulnerability expressed here. I am holding onto this for friends who are experiencing loss and those who are still hanging on to what was and unable to move on. It gives me new insight into their journey. Thanks so much

  3. This is a beautiful post. I relate so much to what you've so eloquently expressed here today. Thirteen years ago I lost everything - literally. Husband, home, belongings, friends, faith and country and then to compound the devastation, 3 out of my 5 children to abduction. Although I have very slowly moved through the death of my previous life and in so doing found that life continues alongside me anyway, I still have moments of such bereavement that I'm now realistic enough to admit will probably always exist within my being - pockets of pain that I now accept and integrate into the greater fabric of my life as it is now. A life where I've come to experience so much grace and healing. It's all part of the same tapestry.

  4. As J-RO expressed so well:
    "I am struck by the beauty, the truth and the vulnerability expressed here."
    It touched so many strings within.
    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you Oriah for sharing this. My husband of forty years died almost a year ago and I am just beginning to understand that he is gone, really gone. I was left behind by the one who was going to be with me sharing memories in our old age. Your ability to express your loss and journey toward healing is a balm to my wounded and tired soul.

  6. I came across The Invitation back in the mid-90s and it helped me get through my (first...) divorce and the establishment of a new life. I was thinking about that poem yesterday so did a search and found your site. As I read yesterday's post, I was struck most by the passage where you talk about seeing or hearing something Jeff might have liked. I've felt that many times and seeing it in words let me feel the sorrow again (something I've learned I need to do, rather than cover it up) and gave me the comfort of knowing I am not alone. Thank you for sharing your experience so eloquently.

  7. The tree
    once severed

    Thank you for that image and this sharing.

  8. It is amazing to me that the permanence of another's decision to go, can feel so surreal for so long. It will be 3 years tomorrow and I still ache for what was lost and my part in it's unraveling. There is a timeline past which most won't continue to understand the pain. At that point you put on the face and suffer in silence.

    I have learned to be grateful for what I have and the goodness that came from our 20 years, however relief from the yearning to go back and make it right is hard to find.

    I wish you a shorter road to the wholeness that can be so elusive. The lessons along the way are truely priceless. The journey uncertain.

    Brian from Maine

  9. Beautiful Oriah Mountain Dreamer: I ache for the awareness we symbolically shared: "and then I got it, we were done"....words that have cycled through my mind so many times these last 10 months since my husband of 7 years, life partner for 12 years announced "he wanted me to move out and wanted a divorce"...its a long, repititious story, one carried and told inumeralbe times for 10 months now....I was just about to give up finding my way to recover with grace from the shock and devastation when I randomly pulled out a copy of your book "The Dance" at the used book store. For the last 2 weeks, I devoured your story nightly, remembering back to happy years ago when I first heard your poem: The Invitation. And reading The Dance for the first time enlivened me and brought me to a place of accepting the discovery and inspiration I found in your writing,your being & spiritual guidance brought to me on these sleepless nights. I felt your written words speaking directly to my heart and showing a way to heal from this unimaginable loss that has brought me to my knees as I walk into my 60th year on this planet, alone, recently divorced, angry, lost, fearful and unable to dance. With each chapter and guided meditation at the end...a glimmer of healing began to shine as bright as the candles on my shrine...and I feel so grateful to know you via your story and words of healing. Just last night, I googled you and read about your recent separation and the loss that you feel in your own life personally and spiritually over the end of your marriage. My heart broke open in compassion for the beauty and insight you bring to me & others despite your current loss and sadness....I was simply hoping to come to one of your writing retreats to complete my own story and never could imagine that we would share the "unpredictablity of how long it will take to grasp loss & change at all levels of being." As an aspiring, unpublished writer, I too journal about ways to "be able to see what is, grasp what has been lost, what has been injured, what has dies and what remains." Your honest sharing and mind-blogging truth amazes and inspires me beyond words. I wish there were words to tell you how sorry I am for your suffering & loss and how grateful I am for the gift you offer by sharing your raw and naked truth. bowing, tari in tucson arizona 10-11-2010

  10. Tari, so sorry to hear about your recent loss- and deeply touched to know you found The Dance helped. No writing workshops planned a the moment but if you would like to go on the newsletter list (emailed 3-4 times a year) to hear about future plans, please just email me at

  11. It always amazes me how long one hopes despite hope and how long one prays even though the mind already knows that "it is done". The mind realizes it early on but the heart decides to put a blind eye to it. My heart chose to put a blind eye to 3 years of a relationship that was no more than lust on his side, but I kept on lying to myself that it was love and that he will come around - eventually. I know 3 years is nothing compared to what you went through Oriah, but I guess when we love it doesn't matter if we were married or "just" in a relationship.
    Your post came with just the right words at exactly the right time. My heart has finally accepted what my mind knew all along - we are done.
    Thank you beautiful lady! Your books and posts are my life-line and have been for so many years. You rock! :-)

    Sabine xoxox

  12. I felt that same urge to call my ex-lover/friend, but because of a court issue cannot pick up the phone, or approach her...your post helped me to see that I am not alone in this "wanting/can't get back there" issue, and realize the door is closed and I cannot open it..I still feel like I would open it if there were a knock, but I send those ideas into the ether along with hope that what ever happens, it WILL MAKE BOTH OF US STROGNER, MORE AWARE AND BETTER LOVERS.

    I have not felt that awful sick feeling which accompanied lost love any helped me realize that now is not then and now is beautiful...thank you.

  13. the never ending feeling of grief, remorse and need to fix... the longing to know how it could all have been different. Even when you are the one who leaves it hurts... You have to be true to yourself and your soul. You deserve the best life you can have. But it doesn't remove the hurt and the pain. Thank you for your writing O... Its carried me through on many days and nights of longing and hoping for a better resolution.