Blessing for Falling into a New Layer of Grief

The Secret RoomImage: The Secret Room © Jan Richardson

It always catches me by surprise when it happens. I’m going along, learning to find my way in this strange terrain that opened to me in the wake of Gary’s death. I’ve gained some acquaintance with the landscape of grief, have listened and looked hard for the new life that’s unfolding here, and have become adept at asking, What do I need now? What’s the invitation here, in this place?

And then, in the landscape that I think I’m coming to know, the ground suddenly falls away. I tumble into territory that doesn’t look familiar. I feel lost all over again, and nearly helpless to know what would help.

I find it difficult to describe this place—this space that can open up as we navigate the strange country of grief. The first time it happened to me, perhaps a year into my grieving, I said to a friend, It feels like some corner of my heart is just getting the news that Gary died. When it happened again, earlier this year, I told that friend it felt like I had fallen—hard—into a new layer of grief, as if I had crashed through a once-solid floor into the room below. For all the strangeness, the falling came with a familiar sensation—that some part of my heart, some hidden recess in one of its chambers, had just received the terrible, heartrending news that Gary was gone.

I sense that this kind of experience has something to do with settling deeper and deeper into the reality of loss—or letting the loss settle more and more deeply into us. When we lose someone with whom we have shared our life, it is impossible to fathom at the outset how utterly this will alter us. We cannot absorb it all at once. And so we learn it little by little, living into the loss a few steps, a few moments, a few breaths at a time.

Once in a while, our grief-laden hearts are ready for larger shifts. It’s rarely pretty when it happens. For me, those are the crashing-through-the-floor times. The helpless weeping times. The times when it feels like part of my heart is just hearing the news. The times when I look at all I’ve done to make a new life, and it feels like ashes because Gary is not here.

The good news—and there is good news here, though it can sometimes take long and long to see it through all the rubble and ash—is that when something in our heart and in our life collapses and crumbles, we fall into new spaces we could hardly have imagined on this side of the crumbling. For all the pain of landing there, those spaces tend also to hold wonders that are waiting for us to find them.

Those spaces make our hearts larger. They widen our hearts beyond anything we could have envisioned. In the crumbling and collapsing and crashing, more of our heart becomes exposed. This means we have more access to our own selves, that there is more of us available to be who we are. We are able to be more present to the life that is unfolding through us, to the grace that lives within the grief, to those around us, and even to our beloved who is gone but who somehow lives in new ways in our expanding heart.

I will tell you, nearly three years now since Gary’s death, that having a bigger heart is small consolation in the face of his absence. But if I have to live with his absence, then I will take the bigger heart. I will pray that I can keep allowing it to open, and open, and open still more, even when the opening feels like crumbling. Even when it feels like falling.

Blessing for Falling into a New Layer of Grief

You thought
you had hit
every layer possible,
that you had found
the far limit
of your sorrow,
of your grief.

Now the world falls
from beneath your feet
all over again,
as if the wound
were opening
for the first time,
only now with
an ache you recognize
as ancient.

Here is the time
for kindness—
your own, to yourself—
as you fall
and fall,
as you land hard
in this layer
that lies deeper than
you ever imagined
you could go.

Think of it as
a secret room—
this space
that has opened
before you,
that has opened
inside you,
though it may look
sharp in every corner
and sinister
no matter where
you turn.

Think of it as
a hidden chamber
in your heart
where you can stay
as long as you need,
where you will
find provision
you never wanted
but on which
your life will now
depend.

I want to tell you
there is treasure
even here—
that the sharp lines
that so match your scars
will lead
to solace;
that this space
that feels so foreign
will become for you
a shelter.

So let yourself fall.
It will not be
the last time,
but do not let this be
cause for fear.

These are the rooms
around which your
new home will grow—
the home of your heart,
the home of your life
that welcomes you
with such completeness,
opening and
opening and
opening itself to you,
no part of you
turned away.

—Jan Richardson
from a forthcoming book of blessings

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28 Responses to “Blessing for Falling into a New Layer of Grief”

  1. Lynda Says:

    Jan, this so beautifully speaks to my heart. I lost my spouse through divorce but the grief was very real and returns at odd moments. There is deep consolation in knowing that there is a new home with new rooms and there are new openings that would never have been present previously. God is present in our grieving. Thank you!

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Lynda, thank you so much for the gift of your words. I am sorry you’ve known this kind of grief, and I can well imagine it returns and revisits you at unexpected times. I’m glad you know the presence of God in the grieving; I cannot imagine navigating this path otherwise! Sending much gratitude and many blessings to you on your unfolding path.

  2. Barb Schoenherr Says:

    Your post is so fitting to read today as we have recently lost 2 precious daughters of our godson in a horrific accident,with the third daughter in ICU.We are at the very beginning journey in this walk of grief.
    Your words are powerful.Thank you.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Oh, Barb—I am so very sorry for this heartrending news about the daughters of your godson. I am sending so many blessings for all the family as you grieve the death of the two daughters and keep vigil for the third. May each of you be enfolded in deep love and grace. Thank you for your words.

  3. Mary Dell Sigler Says:

    Thank you so much for this writing. It has been almost 3 years for me since my husband’s death and I find so many layers of grief. I was a hospice chaplain and thought I could, on a small part, understand someone losing their spouse. When my turn came, I was lost and at times I still feel that way.
    As I prepare to sell my house and move closer to my children, I find everything is so hard to do but I also know I can do it and I will.
    Thank you for sharing so much of your feelings to help those of us going through it also.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Mary, I am so sorry for the mourning that has met you in your husband’s death. And I am so grateful for your words and for your spirit that shines through the grief. I’m sending an armload of blessings as you prepare to sell your home and move closer to your children. May you be enfolded in grace as you do this, and may the veil be thin for you, both in the home you have known and the one you will make when you move.

      Thank you and bless you!

  4. Kathy Bley Says:

    My husband passed away 2 years and 9 months ago. The last several months have left me in one of those “new” rooms. It is, as you wrote, so hard to describe. What a comfort to read your beautifully written words that paint the picture so well. For myself,after spending the 1st 2 years of my journey through grief surrounded by and occupied with others, I have decided to take some “sanctuary” time here— to seek God where I have “fallen” and allowing Him to lead me to the treasures He has in this place.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Kathy, I am so sorry for the grief that has entered your life through your husband’s death. He and Gary must have died close to the same time—it’s been two years and eight months since his death.

      I’m so glad to read that you have decided to take some sanctuary time! I pray this will be a rich time for you, and that you will take all the time you need. I made a similar decision this year, realizing that I needed to rest and to have some different rhythms than in the first couple of years after Gary died. It can be difficult to recognize we need that kind of sanctuary, and to allow ourselves to have it once we recognize the need.

      Many, many blessings and much gratitude to you, and may God lead you to many treasures indeed!

  5. Marianna Cacciatore Says:

    Jan, I am a lay person who filled in for my minister this Sunday at Mountain Vista Unitarian Universalist Church in Tucson, AZ, and for the Blessing Prayer section of our service, I read Lost Blessing. Before reading it I shared that you were an incredible artist, poet, and writer, and encouraged the congregation to visit your website. They post the Commentaries on You Tube, and if you’d care to listen to this 17 minute talk on doing Social Justice work with Love, here is the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPTHQ5DLriU It tells of a very personal story of murder and healing that includes relevant information about the current uptake in violence we’re all trying to figure out how to integrate into our lives. I don’t typically send out things like this, but I think you’ll like this, Jan. With warm regards, ​Marianna Cacciatore

    http://www.mariannacacciatore.com

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Marianna, thank you so much for the gift of your words and this video. I’m looking forward to watching it, and am grateful to you for sharing it with us.

      Many blessings to you!

  6. Judy Holt Says:

    One of the priests at my church sent me this. How did she know I have just falled through, again, and can’t stop crying. Again. Thanks for the thread of hope.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Oh, Judy, I am so sorry for the grief that has entered your life. In your tears and in every moment, I pray you will know yourself enfolded in grace and in love. I am sending you an armload of blessings. Thank you for your words.

  7. Anne townsend Says:

    I run a small bereavement group at our church near London , UK. Your blessings have been so special for us – especially the ones on coming back to an empty house and many layers of grief. We cannot thank you enough , or bless you enough.

  8. Kimberly Says:

    Jan, a friend sent me your beautiful Blessing for the Brokenhearted 2 1/2 years ago, a month after my husband Paul died, and tonight she sent me this. Your description that a new layer of grief is like some part of your heart just getting the news that Gary died rings so true for me. And it reminded me of a favorite Donald Hall poem:

    You think that their
    dying is the worst
    thing that could happen.
    Then they stay dead.

    That Paul stays dead, over and over again, sometimes seems more impossible than that he died. I went back to school last year to become a clinical social worker, a conscious decision to embrace as fully as I can the opening/widening of my heart that you describe so beautifully. I’m writing final papers for summer school this week, feeling tired and stressed, and am grateful for the reminder of why I’m doing this. Thank you, again.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Kimberly, please accept my belated thanks for your beautiful words, which came as such a gift. I am so sorry about Paul and for the grief that has visited your life with his death. Yes and amen! to the Donald Hall poem; thanks so much for sharing this here. He captures it perfectly.

      I’m rejoicing with you in your decision to return to school to become a clinical social worker! I wish you many, many blessings as you continue to pursue this dream, as you navigate the path of grief, and as you open your heart wider and wider still. Deep peace to you.

  9. Linda Says:

    So beautifully and honestly written. Raw and full of hope. Thank you

  10. Paula Namie Says:

    My Pastor put this on Facebook and I have never read a more perfect description of the loss of my husband and even after 16 1/2 years, one of these layers will reappear. He lives on in my heart with Jesus by my side to give me the courage to go forward in this world before I see him again in the next world!! Thank you for this.

  11. Rhonda Hardin Says:

    Jan, i know where you are and how, when words escape me, you seem to find the most beautiful words to describe the depth, the width and the heart of grief. I was hoping to meet you at conference but it didnt work out! Peace and Love,

    Rhonda

  12. Carleen Rynick Says:

    Dear Jan, thank you for your words of understanding and encouragement. it has been 6 months since my dear George died and almost 29 years since my first husband Lyle died. They were both Presbyterian pastors. I have found that new grief brings old grief back again. I keep busy with grandchildren, friends etc. but I still have to come home to this empty house at night. I seem to fall off the cliff several times a week but I trust God and know that with time it will get better. I am trying to survive anfind joy in the waiting for it to improve. I am very grateful that my pastor shared this today. Carleen Rynick

  13. Linda Goddard Says:

    Dear Sister Jan,

    As always, your words and their depth of wisdom fill me and expand me in so many unspeakable ways! And most important, they open places in me that have long cried out in the privacy of my heart to give them voice, to open their pain.

    I lost my first husband, my high school sweetheart, to drugs three weeks before the birth of my first baby, Paul. My life and my baby’s life were,in one fell swoop, ripped out from under us. That was 51 years and an arduous journey ago.

    Still, on random days, a certain shift of light or a odd shadow over the hood of my car, or a look on my son’s face or the way he bends his head, and that evening raises itself up from who knows where, and I think, Oh,here you are-yet again. Will you ever let go, leave my heart in peace? Will you just simply let go of me, lie down to final rest? Ever?

    I have no answers. I have only newer awarenesses of me and of all the ways my mind and heart carry me and my life along this journey and its terrain.

    Blessings Dear One

  14. Mary McClane Says:

    I’m rapidly approaching the first anniversary of my husbands death and just about the time I think I’m “getting it together” I find that I’m not even close.
    Thanks for the words of encouragement. I need them

  15. Bonnie Kline Smeltzer Says:

    So powerful! Your words ring true to my journey of grief since my daughter’s death in Jan ’14.

  16. Judy Holt Says:

    Now that I am a lot steadier, though I know this will not last! I wanted to add how hugely helpful it is for me to see my experiences and feelings expressed by others. I was given a book years ago called Moving On: A Spirituality for Women of Middle Age, and it had the same effect. Jan, your blog is a wonderful resource to return to. My husband of 48 years died last October so I am a newbie but we are all in this together, I believe. Love to you.

  17. Barbara Hull Says:

    My husband died two months ago and the grief I feel is unbearable at times. Friends and family have rallied around me and it helps. But at the end of the day, it’s just me in this big empty house. I’m still incredulous that this actually happened. Your description of the different layers of grief was perfect. Thank you for putting into words what those of us who have lost a loved one are experiencing every day.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Barbara, I am so sorry about the death of your husband. I so resonate with what you wrote—the gift of friends and family who rally around, coming home to the empty house, and the sense of incredulity that he is gone.

      Please know I am praying for you as you move through such fresh and raw grief. I pray that many graces will attend your path, that you will find the things that will help you keep breathing and moving through each day and night, and that you will know yourself encompassed by love.

      Thank you for the gift of your words. Many, many blessings to you.

  18. Cathy Says:

    Dear Jan, A friend just acquainted me with your work. I lost my beautiful 29 year old daughter in an accidental and sudden death Aug 13, 2016. She was my only girl, my youngest, and my best girlfriend! When I read your words I am so afraid of the layers of grief that will come – the depth of my grief is so vast that I cannot anticipate more to come without the fear despite my faith in God.

    • Lynda Says:

      Cathy, as I read your comment, I was moved to pray for you from the depths of my heart. Such pain and grief are so difficult to bear but please remember that Jesus is there with you. You are not alone ever. And please know that others pray for you.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Oh, Cathy, I am so sorry about the death of your daughter. My heart breaks with yours. Please know I am praying for you and sending an armload of blessings.

      I hear your fear, and I want to say that my experience of falling into new layers of grief is that when it happens, there is already grace at work—that the new layers/rooms hold provision that meets me when I encounter new aspects of grief. I think the presence of this provision, this grace, is in fact part of what enables us to enter into those new layers. It’s not just that the presence of grace helps us survive the new layers—it’s that the grace helps us enter those new layers in the first place.

      My experience so far is that although falling into a new layer can be bewildering, disorienting, and painful at the outset, it opens my heart even wider in a way that comes as a gift. Because I am able to see and know my grief more clearly there, I am able to become open to the healing of those deeper layers of grief. As I see my grief and my heart more clearly, I also become able to meet God, Gary, and my own self in new ways, because every time I enter into a new layer of grief, more of me becomes known and available.

      I pray that in the midst of your grief and fear, you will know yourself enfolded and encompassed with the presence of Christ, who goes with us into every painful place. Thank you again for your words. I wish you deep peace.

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