Archive for January, 2016

The Grief Train

Bereavement. Or, Bereaved. Bereft. It’s from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob’.” This quote is from H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald. If you look up the word in the dictionary, bereavement means a period of mourning after a loss, especially after the death of a loved one; a state of intense grief. Another definition a little closer to the origin of the word is: the condition of having been deprived of something or someone valued, especially through death. Today, I think we refer to bereavement as a time of mourning, although both are true. There’s no rushing it. It takes years, really. It has its own schedule.

A friend’s mother passed away a month or so ago. She said “when the grief train gets through my busy exterior, it’s kind of surprising”. Yes, the grief train doesn’t have a schedule. That wave of grief requires us to feel our feelings when it arrives at our station.

We are mourning for being deprived of our loved one, being robbed of that person in our life. They are taken away and we don’t see them again. They aren’t available to talk to, to spend time with any more. That’s the hard part, the hurt part, and it takes time to heal or at least to feel less tender about the loss. It’s not something that can be analyzed or thought through, it touches our heart, our emotion. Emotion is energy in motion, like waves on the ocean. We can’t control the waves and we can control the waves of emotion.

Sometimes, when I think of my friend, Jane, the neighbor I met in high school who became like a second mother, and who has been gone for many years now, the grief train arrives at my station and I am brought to tears – missing her. I grieve the unconditional love that she had for me that was so precious. I really I learned what unconditional love is from her.

Helen McDonald says in another place in her book, “Sometimes I felt I was living in a house at the bottom of the sea”. Grief requires diving deep into those waves and sitting in the midst of those feelings. We cannot rise back up to the living without first getting to the bottom of our emotions and grief.

Bereavement is a station I can be residing in, or not even notice I am still there after so long . . . and surprise, the grief train will stop at my station. I believe the work is to be willing to greet that train, to honor and acknowledge it, and sit with it when it arrives.


For more about grief and the difference between grief and sadness, see Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotions.




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In the recent article in the New York Times, The Smell of Loss, the author Julie Myerson describes her experiences smelling her mother-in-law’s perfume a year or more after she had died. Her exploration of why the scent persists at times includes asking scientists and others for their explanation of this phenomenon. It’s a hallucination, a ghost, or the brain’s way of bringing up a memory – a sensory memory, they say.

I had a similar experience of scent a month or so after my husband died. I came upstairs to our bedroom and there was the very strong smell of coffee. He drank coffee every morning.   There was no coffee made or being made in the kitchen downstairs. The smell was unmistakably coffee. I did not go searching for where that scent was coming from. I figured he had shown up to say hello. I had not gone searching for why this occurred. After reading this NY Times article, I googled “smelling perfume of deceased”. The first site I found listed the Top Ten Signs from your Loved Ones in Spirit. Turns out I’d had several of these common experiences. Another site from the authors of Hello From Heaven calls them ADC’s – After Death Communications. They have done similar research. Their book of the same name was so helpful to me after my husband died explaining that these things do happen and are quite common. I wasn’t going crazy.

In my Internet search, I learned that the ability to smell the fragrance from a deceased loved one is called clairgustance. Hearing a voice is called clairaudience. Getting a phone call is also common. I did get that one. I wished I’d saved it. There was a message on my cell phone that just said, “I love you” – very softly. I knew it was from my husband. I received the message the day after he died. Another common experience is receiving a physical sign. I had a friend tell me there were a lot of butterflies after their father’s funeral. I think my husband showed up as a raccoon in my back yard after his memorial. I didn’t say that, my best friend did. The raccoon just stared and stared at us. A friend’s mother had an owl that visited her every day for a week after her husband died.

Another sign is movement such as a photo or picture falling off the wall, or an object is moved. I had that one, too. I gave my husband a small metal heart after we were married and he always carried it in his pocket with his change. I had put in on the altar I created on our bedroom dresser. One day I discovered it had been moved and it wasn’t by me or anyone else. Strange electrical occurrences such as lights or appliances going on or off, or clocks stopping are other signs. Another is that we might hear buzzing noises in our ears. I read that they are communicating from a higher frequency, which may be experienced as ringing or buzzing in our ears. I hadn’t thought about that one being applicable and I don’t think it is for me. I had some buzzing in my ears that got more pronounced after the Elton John concert I attended this summer.

Overall, from what I have read and experienced myself, I do believe these experiences are real and they are not a hallucination. So many people have had these experiences. And, sometimes the inexplicable is just that. I’m ok with that. Are you?

The crux is that grief is a process that takes time and we get signs to help us along – from life as well as sometimes from the deceased. The change from having that person we love at hand and then gone is the hardest part to adjust to. As the author Julie Myerson quotes in her article, “Loss. Isn’t that the hardest lesson of human existence? The finality of losing someone you love, of having them fall right out of your life forever: the cold and terrible permanence of it.”

And yet, what I have discovered that lives on is the love. The love never dies or is lost. We hold it in our heart always. When we experience a loss, our heart is cracked open. Which always reminds me of the Leonard Cohen quote: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”


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