Thursday, August 20, 2009

Only love can break a heart. What can mend it?

THE PRODIGAL SON BY REMBRANDT. I was lucky enough to see this painting in the Hermitage.
Rembrandt had four children, only one of whom survived.**

Only love can break a heart. Only love can mend it again.
Time can bring you down. Time can bend your knees.
Many people use the term "going mad" in reference to the loss of a child. Eric Clapton wrote "Tears in Heaven" "to keep from going mad," he said.
David Grossman called it "hell in slow motion."

Grieving the loss of a loved one is hard work. It is painful, so painful that you can be tempted to shut down and not do what feels like compounding the situation. To face the full brunt of the loss of the death of a child, or loss of a spouse or parent takes tremendous courage, even spirit. Yet we know from emotional intelligence that if you stuff down one emotion, you stuff down ALL emotions. If you want to ever feel joy again, then you must grieve -- go through the experience, not around it. I told myself during my hardest grieving period that I was carving out a valley to later be filled with joy - the depth of the joy one day to be equal to the depth of the loss. I believe that with love, faith and hard work, the part of you that is still alive comes back one day ... and you want to be available for that.

Whether you've lost a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent, or a dear friend ... the developmental task is to be willing to love again in the face of such a terrible loss. As Betty Ann Rutledge, a program director for grieving families writes:
But how do we heal those gaping holes in our hearts? How do we learn to live with our grief? One of the gifts of our community at Bereaved Families is our model of mutual support. I hear time and again from newly bereaved (and not so newly bereaved) people the comfort and relief that is felt when one has an opportunity to connect with someone who has experienced a similar loss. “Finally, someone who understands.” “It’s so good to talk with someone who really “gets it”. “I thought I was the only one who felt this way.” “If they can survive, maybe I can too.”

We know, from emotional intelligence, that ISOLATION is harder on health than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure combined. And by isolation, we mean being isolated emotionally -- from other people and oneself. One of the hardest things about grief is being alone. In fact, the loss of a child often breaks up a marriage.

Call me if you would like to talk about your grief and your loved one. Together, we will say their name. See resources for the Loss of a Child.

More thoughts ...

Gene Pitney, "Only Love Can Break a Heart. Only Love ... Can Mend it Again"

Eric Clapton's four year old son Connor fell 53 floors to his death from a Manhattan high rise in 1991. His death inspired Clapton to write the hit song "Tears in Heaven." This song has special meaning to me and my son Chester.

From Eric Clapton:

When I try to take myself back to that time, to recall the terrible numbness that I lived in, I recoil in fear. I never want to go through anything like that again. Originally, these songs were never meant for publication or public consumption; they were just what I did to stop from going mad...

When it came out, it was the biggest-selling album of my entire career....But if you want to know what it actually cost me, go to Ripley, and visit the grave of my son.

Many people have used poetry and art to work through their grief when they lose a child. Rembrandt, Shakespeare and Clapton are some examples.

Read about Rembrandt's painting by Twelker, psychology professor emeritus. Twelker, Paul A. (2003). Rembrandt and Psychology: Reflections on The Return of the Prodigal Son. Internet resource available at

Psychology asks meaningful questions, especially if we have the spiritual ears to hear. Spiritual truth and psychological meanings can be complementary. We need not be afraid of the discipline of psychology if we allow the Spirit of God to quicken our souls and our minds to His truth. The point that I am making is that the master artist reveals a depth of understanding of this parable that is both spiritual and psychological. You can understand the concepts of love, relationship, guilt, motivation, pride, jealousy, repentance and forgiveness through the study of psychology. And you can even deepen your understanding through personal experience. And then, at some point in time, prompted by the Spirit of God, your soul is stirred to its very depths and you awaken to new meanings of life...of redemption...of mercy...of refreshment. It is then that you realize that the discipline of psychology is but humankind’s noble attempt to understand truth--and that is a very God-honoring ambition.

William Shakespeare lost his son, Hamnet, when the boy was 11 years old. He wrote it out perhaps in "Hamlet," probably for sure in "King John."

This is from "King John"


I will instruct my sorrows to be proud;
For grief is proud and makes his owner stoop.
To me and to the state of my great grief
Let kings assemble; for my grief's so great
That no supporter but the huge firm earth
Can hold it up: here I and sorrows sit;
Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it.

Seats herself on the ground

[In a later scene]

No, I defy all counsel, all redress,
But that which ends all counsel, true redress,
Death, death; O amiable lovely death!

Lady, you utter madness, and not sorrow.

I am not mad: this hair I tear is mine;
My name is Constance; I was Geffrey's wife;
Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost:
I am not mad: I would to heaven I were!
For then, 'tis like I should forget myself:
O, if I could, what grief should I forget!
Preach some philosophy to make me mad,
And thou shalt be canonized, cardinal;
For being not mad but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason
How I may be deliver'd of these woes,
And teaches me to kill or hang myself:
If I were mad, I should forget my son,
Or madly think a babe of clouts were he:
I am not mad; too well, too well I feel
The different plague of each calamity....

And, father cardinal, I have heard you say
That we shall see and know our friends in heaven:
If that be true, I shall see my boy again;
For since the birth of Cain, the first male child,
To him that did but yesterday suspire,
There was not such a gracious creature born.
But now will canker-sorrow eat my bud
And chase the native beauty from his cheek
And he will look as hollow as a ghost,
As dim and meagre as an ague's fit,
And so he'll die; and, rising so again,
When I shall meet him in the court of heaven
I shall not know him: therefore never, never
Must I behold my pretty Arthur more.

You hold too heinous a respect of grief.

He talks to me that never had a son.

You are as fond of grief as of your child.

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form:
Then have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do...
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure!


In the middle of the room, in its white coffin, lay the dead child, the nephew of the poet. Near it, in a great chair, sat Walt Whitman, surrounded by little ones, and holding a beautiful little girl on his lap. She looked wonderingly at the spectacle of death, and then inquiringly into the old man's face.

'You don't know what it is, do you, my dear?' said he, and added, 'We don't, either.' (Mary Mapes Dodge, friend of Wal Whitman's)

Robert Lowell, on the death of his son: "Identification in Belfast"

..."When they first showed me the boy, I thought oh good,
it's not him because he is a blonde--
I imagine his hair was singed dark by the bomb.
He had nothing on him to identify him
except this box of joke trick matches;
he liked to have them on him, even at mass.
The police were unhurried and wonderful,
they let me go on trying to strike a match...
I just wouldn't stop-- you cling to anything--
I couldn't believe I couldn't light one match--
only joke-matches...Then I knew he was Richard."

David Grossman lost his youngest son Uri during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon. Grossman is a novelist. Grossman described it as "hell in slow motion, all the time."

It's a painful life, now. It's like hell in slow motion, all the time. I don't try to escape grief. I face grief in an intense way in my writing, but not only in my writing. If I have to suffer, I want to understand my situation thoroughly. It's not an easy place to be, but so be it. If I'm doomed to it, I want-- it's a human predicament, and I want to experience it....

Anything that is calm and safe seems to me like an illusion.

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