Do you really know how I feel? Do you know what it’s like to wake up in the morning exhausted? Do you know what it feels like to break into tears at a grocery store by just picking up a cantaloupe? Do you know what it’s like not being able to breathe, not wanting to breathe, but breathing anyway? Do you really know how that feels?

Benjamin I know how you feelWhen someone says, “I know how you feel,” we know instinctively whether those are just words or they truly know how we feel. We know if they are just trying to fill an awkward silence or coming from that place where only silence can speak.

After Matt died and all my family had ultimately gone beyond the reach of my touch, I moved to Mendocino, California. I needed to be by the waters that held their ashes. I needed the power of the Pacific Ocean to keep me breathing.

I met a woman there who knew what I felt. She was years pass the day I was living, but she had lived that day. She had a stepson die of a motorcycle accident at the age of 17. Her daughter died of cancer at 18. Then her husband opened the door of their restaurant one morning and was gunned down. She knew how I felt.

She, too, had moved away from the city with its noise and chaos. She needed a simple life to deal with the complexities of loss, just like me.

She had remarried. She had pieced a life together through the trail of tears in her Afterloss. It gave me comfort to know someone knew the absolute demolition of my life and had traveled a road of healing to a place beyond my comprehension at that moment.

I could hear her words and feel hope. I could see my reflection in her tears. When she laughed I could be in laughter, too.

Benjamin I know how you feel 2She was the one that knew how I felt. She gave me the most treasured gift of her experience and words of wisdom that lit the darkest moments of my life. She said, “Put your finger in your heart and never let it close.”

During that time in Mendocino, I would be hit by these massive waves of grief. They would come out of nowhere and I would contract into a fetal position. Every muscle contracted. Breathing became a spontaneous human response forcing the body to survive. I would roll back and forth in pain far beyond any physical pain I’ve ever felt.

And I would keep my finger in my heart. As I contracted in this massive wave of sorrow, I literally visualized keeping my finger in my heart. It was the only thing I could do.

After each episode, my contraction opened into expansion. I could feel greater love. I saw with deeper compassion. My peace spread just a little further across the landscape of my Afterloss.

She knew how I felt. She also knew what was possible to feel.

We are all on different parts of the path of healing loss. Some are in the first few days. Some have wandered the wilderness of the early months or even years. There are people on this path that truly know how you feel. And there are others that know what it’s like to lean into the pain, feel what must be felt without ever completely closing their hearts and finding that all the sorrow can lead into the expanse of life where the depth of each moment resides.

I am so grateful that in that small isolated town where I went to get away from the world there was someone there who found me. And I believed her when she said, “I know how you feel.”


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