How do we make meaning of it all when someone we love dies?
When the world seems meaningless and we wonder why? These questions are a natural response as we try to make sense of a great loss. Along the gradual path of grieving, adapting, and accepting a loss in our lives, we often make our own very personal meaning that is intertwined with the continuing bond of love.
A friend recently shared a poem with a profoundly beautiful message about death and grief and love. It’s a meditation that’s often read before Kaddish, part of Jewish mourning rituals.
Epitaph by Merrit Malloy
When I die, give what’s left of me away
To children and old people who wait to die.
If you need to cry,
Cry for your brother and sister
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms around anyone and
Give them what you need to give to me.
I want to leave you something,
Something better than words or sounds.
Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved.
If you cannot give me away,
At least let me live in your eyes,
And not in your mind.
You can love me most
By letting hands touch hands,
By letting hearts touch hearts,
And by letting go of
Spirits who need to be free.
Love does not die, bodies do.
So, when all that’s left of me is love,
Give me away.
This exquisite poem resonated so deeply, because it beautifully articulates what I wanted to accomplish when I wrote You Are Not Alone.
When my husband died, suddenly, of an aortic aneurysm, I thought my life was over. And it’s true, the life we shared, the life I had with him, was over. I had to build a new life, and believe me, it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It began with the love and support of many, the angels in my life who held me and helped me put back together the pieces of my broken heart. And as so many of you know, it begins with baby steps, one step at a time, one breath at a time.
About six months after Jim died, my Aunt Jennee and I were driving through the vastness of desert on a clear, cloudless, hot day. I was in that exhausting place between not wanting to believe this WAS reality and the piercing pain of acceptance creeping in around the edges of my stubborn denial. I couldn’t bear being in the spring of New York, as all the firsts were piling up fast. I’d made it through the holidays in a haze of shock, followed by my birthday, his birthday, (he would have been 46) and now our wedding anniversary. It pushed me over the edge. Jennee was there to catch me in Arizona, far away from familiar.
We drove through the red rock mountains, with the wide expanse of desert blue sky seemingly expanding out forever, and an endless stretch of road ahead. I felt as though the road ahead for me was endless, too. I wondered if I would ever see beauty in anything ever again. I wondered what it all meant. His death, the loss of him. It had to mean something, didn’t it?
This was at least the ten-thousandth time I’d asked myself that question. And now, with Jennee at the wheel, “what does it all mean” kept circling in my mind, as if I was asking the universe for the answer. I turned to Jennee and said, “I don’t know how yet, I don’t know what yet, but some day, somehow,something good has to come out of this. Something that can help others.” As Malloy wrote: “when all that’s left of me is love, give me away.”
I was able to put our love into action by writing my book, You Are Not Alone. At the end of the book, I write: “My heart is still expanding, allowing me to leave pieces of him and our love in the hearts of others.” It’s a legacy of love left by Jim.
Since it was published in May of 2018, it’s helped thousands of people to know they are not alone in their experience. It’s shown countless others how to help support those who are grieving. I am grateful, humbled, and honored to share this space with all of you.
With heartfelt thanks, love, and wishes for a new year filled with peace and blessings.
Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC, is an author and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she specializes in trauma, grief and loss. Her award-winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope combines her personal story of devastating loss with practical insights and simple suggestions for healing. Join her Facebook community, Grief to Gratitude, and follow her on Instagram.