Reviewed By: Steve Hardy
Steve serves on One Summit's Board of Directors. He and his wife Donna live in Durham, NH.
Some of the smallest books in my library pack the biggest wallop of insights and wisdom. One of these is Martha W. Hickman’s Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief. Hickman (1925 - 2015) wrote essays, fiction and children’s books, but Healing After Loss is her best-known work. As a scholar, a church and community worker, and a mother who tragically lost her sixteen-year-old daughter, she understood the twisting trek of grief, its daily challenges and opportunities. She is an excellent travel companion.
At 4x6 inches in size, Healing After Loss is a true pocketbook. Each of its 365 pages presents a calendar day’s meditation in three parts: a quote, a discussion — often tied to Martha’s own experiences with seismic loss and post-traumatic growth — and a final, pithy reminder that serves as a bookend to the opening quote. A simple and effective formula.
Hickman read widely and thought deeply. Her sources include Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Toni Morrison, Terry Tempest Williams, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Kiowa Prayers, The Book of Isaiah, the Bhagavad Gita, Aeschylus, and Harriet Tubman. Just as diverse are the dozens of themes that run through the entries, providing insights sure to resonate with each reader and each reading. Here are some that struck me:
- Grief tends to begin as an individual and isolating journey.
- It is long and hard, so it is wise to take small steps, accept the ups and downs, and listen to those who have gone before who tell you it does get better, albeit slowly and unevenly.
- Among the most important steps are acknowledging and accepting the reality of loss and “being present” in the often gut-wrenching depths of despair.
- The steps to resilience and actual growth require action or activity, many of which are described in other resources in this very blog series: taking a walk, creating, painting, telling your story, finding a place that offers perspective and comfort, embracing old or new rituals.
- Reaching out to others to give or receive help, love and support is crucial to healing and growth. This activity can trigger and nurture a sense of faith and recognition that none of us should suffer alone.
- Part of this process includes engaging in “unfinished business” with those we have lost, both asking for and granting forgiveness.
- While we never “get over” or “get closure” on our loss [why would we want to?], we can learn to live with the holes in our soul and grow along the journey.
But my favorite theme is this: as preposterous as it can appear to those just struck by grief, we may sometimes receive messages or “gifts” that connect us with those we’ve lost. These are quite personal and present themselves in a variety of ways: butterflies, dragonflies, rainbows, cardinals, or glorious acts of nature. We hit the jackpot this year on the death dates of our sons Josh and Nate. We have rituals for each day, visits to special places that are holy to us (see March 2018 Profiles in Resilience blog). Sometimes magical things happen. When we got to the Marginal Way and reached a high, hallowed spot, Donna noticed that the sun had beamed through the clouds way off to the south, just as it had on Jan 6, 1993 when Josh's friends came after learning of his death. We had never seen a sight like that. On February 4, we boarded at Manchester airport for our annual trip to visit Nate and others in Arlington National Cemetery. As we began to taxi for take off, I went to turn my phone to airplane mode and up popped a “gift” on my screen.
As Hickman explains, these encounters “might not stand up under the scrutiny of reason, but experiences of death and grief call for leaps of intuition and imagination. We have entered a new realm.” Healing After Loss is a splendid guide that will help “those who grieve to move with resoluteness and courage and with trust in a gathering light on the long road to recovery and reclamation of life.”
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