This week seems to be a difficult week, not just for me but for a few of my friends. One friend found out that her closest friend has brain cancer and probably will not survive. Another friend’s daughter tried to commit suicide this past week. Fortunately, she is still alive, but the guilt and grief my friend feels is overwhelming.

I know that a lot of the sadness I’m experiencing is not just about the present, it’s a holdover from my past. Having my mother die and the marriage end, as well as my daughter moving away from home brings up feelings of abandonment that are very old. And packing up my life, finding old photographs of my mother, of our family, photos of Zoe growing up, old letters, cards, memories, is not easy. I think it’s all part of the healing process though, to feel the pain and move through it.

The other day, I knew I needed some extra support, so I went back to Friends In Deed for their noon big group. After I spoke, the group leader said, “Robin, if you had only had your daughter move 3,000 miles away – you could claim your seat here. Or if you were just going through a divorce – you could claim your seat here. Or if you’d been a caregiver for so many years and then lost your mother, you could definitely claim your seat. But to have all three happen at once, is terribly difficult and for some reason, it’s frequently how life happens.” I listened to other people’s stories and knew that I was part of a group of people who knew how much suffering is a huge part of our journey. Unspeakable losses and pain were expressed by everyone who spoke, along with acceptance and even some laughter. I liked when the leader said, “Grief is spoken here.” He compared it to American tourists traveling around the world and being annoyed when people don’t speak English and understand what they are saying. Not everyone understands grief, nor can they be expected to, nor can we be annoyed when someone doesn’t know how to respond.

My childhood wasn’t easy, but many of my friends went through the loss of a parent, or a divorce in their family and I couldn’t really understand what they were going through. I think my first real glimpse of pain (not just of loneliness, because I felt that most of my life, but of loss) came when I had a miscarriage in my fourth month. I was already thirty-five at the time and I was afraid I would never be able to have a child. I remember only one person really understanding that this was a death and he encouraged me to grieve. I didn’t even really know what that meant, but I let myself feel – and eventually it passed.

These days I feel good for weeks at a time, like riding gentle waves of life and then suddenly a tsunami hits and I feel overwhelmed. This morning I made a few calls, and meditated, and re-read my favorite Pema quote for early morning blues: “When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in that moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.”

In the big group the other day at Friends In Deed the leader mentioned “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. He reminded us of her message, that life is about things falling apart and then coming together again…and falling apart….and coming together again. I guess we have to give ourselves the space and go through these cycles and to know that the coming together is inevitable. And also to remember all that we have to be grateful for, even after a tsunami. I managed to get out of bed and walk the dogs this morning. We are all grateful for that. And just the knowledge that we’re not alone is also comforting.

“Grief is spoken here.” It’s not where we live, but it’s definitely understood.

Late yesterday afternoon I returned to the apartment and bookshelves were emptied, closets were cleaned out, artwork moved around and several pieces were taken. It made me sad and just as I started to cry, a friend called. She too has been through divorce and she was so kind. She told me her husband left her (after they’d spent half their lives together) at the end of December a few years ago and she spent January and the rest of the winter alone, in the dark and in deep mourning. That sounded really rough. Sometimes as I’m walking the dogs late at night I think, well, it could be worse. This could be January – and truly, I am enjoying being here alone with them and having the space to myself. It’s just when the reminder that this dream of marriage and family is over and the reality hits you in the face that it really hurts.

This morning I am having trouble getting out of bed, I have ten more minutes to get the dogs out (my morning routine is meditate, drink coffee, read, write and walk dogs by 8 am.) But no one cares if it’s 8:15, so I may be moving a bit slower today.

Another friend of mine is dealing with the same abandonment issues now as she and her husband, who have been living in separate quarters in their apartment, are getting closer to physically separating. If this issue of abandonment is part of your childhood experience, I think it’s much harder to deal with in your present life. My mother got sick when I was a teenager and went out to California to stay with relatives for a few months. I felt abandoned and alone, especially when my father went out there too. I got through it, but it left some scars.

Fortunately, I am not really alone. I have good support systems and life has a way of working out for the best, so much of the time. If only someone could come and walk the dogs and let me go back to sleep.