Beauty in the Pain

One sleepless night, I tiptoed down the stairs, slipped outside and stared up at the low-hanging moon, so close to me it looked as if it had been pinned against the black canvas with a thumbtack.


I reached out a hand to snatch if from the sky, tuck it inside my heart, feel its warm steady glow burn through my body, filling the empty places my brother’s death left behind. Perhaps I’d be able to float, or fly into the midnight sky, join him there in the crook of a star, swing our legs and whisper all that he gave to me in his short life. How he inspired me. Expanded me. I’d tell him my favorite parts about being his sister and the infinite ways he changed my life and is changing it still.

I’d tell him how he taught me about love by giving me the gift to love and lose him in this lifetime.

Love, the lightest and heaviest four-letter word that keeps  artists sweating and panting as they attempt to capture this elusive emotion in words, in brush strokes, in haunting notes strummed on an acoustic guitar.

guitarTo open the chambers of our hearts to real intimate love—love for our children, our parents, our best friends, our lovers and our siblings requires courage. The courage to be vulnerable. The courage to allow another human being to tread into our shadow side, that sacred, secret space where our fears, our hurts, our unrealized dreams curl up and cower. Many of us let our loved ones halfway in, or three quarters of the way in, but protect the lady-slipper fragile parts that belong only to us. The last quarter of who we are as reassurance we’ll remain whole and standing and alive when we inevitably lose someone we love.

At least this is the way I lived my life, I just wasn’t aware of it until my brother Rocky died. Grief lit up those dark protected corners like someone shot a flare through my heart.

heart on fireThose fears, past hurts, unrealized dreams surrendered with their hands in the air. There was no more hiding. There was only me and my cracked-open heart, gazing bleary-eyed at the pieces of me I’d shooed into the shadows, said, “Keep quiet. I will keep you safe.”

Three months after Rocky died, after my travels to Asia, after watching his ashes glint under the Balinese sun and drift away from me and his beloved wife and daughter and brother, after the memorial service in the states, after there was nothing left to distract me, nothing left to keep my mind from re-living that nanosecond when my life blew apart as if I’d swallowed a hand grenade, I offered up a gift to my brother. I offered up a gift to me: to allow myself to dive into the deep river of grief.

deep river

I was terrified I’d drift away to some remote semblance of myself, but I was sure if I wanted to arrive somewhere new, it was necessary.  I’ve known my sibling for forty three years. I remember when my parents brought him home swaddled in a blanket. I want to feel the loss. I want to because it honors what we had. It honors the sister-brother bond we shared. It honors the love we had between us. It honors my brother’s spirit.

Moving through grief is a choice. I’m not talking about the aftershock, or the endless days, clutching photographs to our chest or breathing in the scent of our loved ones clothes or the desperate dire need to join them on the other side. I’m not talking about remaining stuck in the stages of grief. I’m talking about being present in the process, moving with it and through it so we can rejoin the living and hear the sound of our own laughter. Real laughter. Guttural laughter.

I’m talking about giving ourselves the space, the time to feel into the murky depths of our grief without the numerous assistants eager to numb the edges of our emotional discomfort: valium, anti-depressants (when it’s grief, not depression), street drugs, alcohol and busyness.

pillsWhy is it we want to numb our pain? Where do we think it goes when we don’t allow ourselves to feel it, breathe into it? I’ve witnessed it over and over as a therapist, the “assistants” and “distractions” that keep us from feeling love and losses fully. We would not know one without the other.

Only a few months into my own grieving process my doctor wanted to put me on anti-depressants. I said, “But I’m not depressed.”

He said, “Well it’s situational depression.”

I said, “No. It’s grief.”

We don’t, as a culture, want to feel the depth of emotion that sears through the heart like a fire through a parched field. We want to slap some salve on the rising blisters, cool the hot, raging ache. But those blisters need to rise. They need to pop, scab over, and scar. I don’t believe we ever “heal” from profound loss or that grieving has an end point. Overtime, our grief transforms into something new. Something different when we allow ourselves to feel our way all the way through it.

And even if it’s not our pain, but that of a friend, a loved one, it’s no easier. A human being in suffering bleeds an energy that is thick, and palpable. It cups its mouth over yours and siphons your breath. We don’t want to suffer and we don’t want others, too either. It hurts because we, me, you are powerless to transform those blisters into scabs.

As I stood motionless that night, just as my brother had done in a photograph where he and his two college pals tilted heads toward the sky, mesmerized by stars or the moon, maybe both, I thought about how that picture captured his spirit, the way he lived his life one moment at a time, immersed in the wonder of it all.

my brother

My brother taught me about love, about loss. He showed me there’s beauty in both. My blisters are not scars yet, I’m not even sure they’ve scabbed over, but I welcome them because the beauty in the pain is that I had the chance to love him in this lifetime. And that I’d choose over and over and over again.




If I’ve not said this enough, I want you all to know how grateful I am that you take the time to read the posts. When I started this blog, I did so with the intention to write inspirational pieces. I realize it’s taken on a different form since Rocky’s passing. I cannot express my depth of gratitude that you’ve continued to “follow” this site and travel with me on this journey.

With love, light and gratitude,


11 thoughts on “Beauty in the Pain

  1. I’ve been thinking if you and looking forward to your next post. Trust you are doing well, amazing woman you are. xoxox Berry

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Berry…I’ve been thinking so much about you too!! It’s definitely time for a thai dinner!! You are the amazing one and I want to know how the writing group is going. Sending you so much LOVE!! xoxoxox

    1. Thanks sweet! For whatever reasons…comments are posting over there. So if you want, leave it here…always love to hear your comments, thoughts and insights!
      Big love,

  2. I left a comment on the site, too, but it isn’t there, so I’ll reiterate here: I loved your post, especially the idea of being present in the grief in order to move through it. You explain the process so eloquently. But… I take antidepressants (I have for ten years and probably will for the rest of my life) and, let me tell you, I fully experienced the crushing, smothering grief over the loss of my son. My feelings weren’t numbed in the least. Without antidepressants, some people may never come up from that deep river. xoxo Linda

    1. Hi Linda,
      Yes…I don’t know why comments won’t post on the site. Thank you for this comment! I was a bit worried when I wrote that part that people might read it as a judgment. I know there are many people on anti-depressants for many reasons and need to be for their quality of life. I was just trying to make that distinction…during early grief to know the difference between depression and grief…because my doctor wanted to put me on them so quickly and I wanted to wait…if I didn’t start feeling a little better as time progressed, I absolutely would go on them. I really appreciate you writing this comment… and I truly hope I don’t offend anyone. Much love always! Susan

      1. No offense taken! I think you were wise in holding off. Grief can be frightening. I think when a person becomes mired in regret or guilt to the point where it’s overtaking their days and nights, then it’s time to talk to a doctor.

      2. Linda,
        Grief is frightening…just when you think you’ve turned a corner…a memory, a wave, just washes over me. The most helpful thing for me has been talking to people at the Center for Grieving children to understand how normal my emotions are…but it’s all so exhausting! Thank you for your comments and insights, too. I really appreciate it. The comments were finally posted on Open to Hope…so I’m going to respond there as well.

        Sending you much love and mounds of gratitude! xo

  3. Susan, it has been a while since I checked your blog, and it looks like a while since you posted, but I see this entry. I am in much gratitude for your post here, as there were two points therein that were very synchronous with me: First, the idea of many of us having trouble letting others into our deepest parts of ourselves, including lovers. I just ended a short but beautiful relationship where one of my shadows is of being terrified of letting someone in completely – up to that point I had never really let anybody in that close due to the core reason of having parents who absolutely loved me, but in their expression of that love; and of their own traumas, ended up being abusive in different ways. This manifested in a ….very interesting way, where during our lovemaking my penis would randomly and instantly go flaccid. My partner, also being an empath, told me that I was terrified, and had a deer in the headlights look. Our relationship was about learning to let each other in with unconditional love, and seeing how with much light being shone into our deepest places, shall reveal shadows with contrasts with equal intensity for the purpose of being revealed, loved, and healed so that we may shine forth even brighter! Second, you mentioned how we tend to numb or shy away from our pain, negative feelings, and hurts; and I resonated with this as my time here in Albuquerque is continuing to teach me to feel again, fully, and to express and be sitting with all my feelings, including negative ones. We live in a world where as humans, we all have had our pain and hurts, and in the commonality of shying away from having those feelings; or numbing it, we all co-created a world where we turn to beliefs, logic, statistics, and efficiency whenever it serves our egos and society; and feel when it serves our egos and society. The results is the world we witness now; both the beauty and tragedy in a divine brightness and shadow. Your posts, Susan, are INDEED inspiring because you are choosing to feel, to be in the present moment, and sharing through writing, your journey, giving us all hope on how we can authentically live through our hearts and feelings, and the beauty of sharing ourselves with others. A hardened heart will crack and bleed whenever the universe inevitably strikes it in an effort to invite us to grow; a softened heart is open to being vulnerable, and when the universe invites us to grow through experiencing pain and hurt; the softened heart will flex, heal, shape, and grow itself like liquid.

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