Slowly surrendering to heartbreak


Our beautiful Buddhist friend and teacher, Marilyn, developed a cancer, which quickly spread after surgery, and took her life way too soon. And I hate that! And I do not want to accept it. Can’t she come lead us in centering meditation again like she did in the photo above? We just had coffee, and then agreed to do that more often. How can she be suddenly gone?

I can still see her face, her radiant smile, her perpetual shining forth of lovingkindness. She must be still here…somewhere!

I know if I go to the urban garden by the Ruby Slipper Café she will have her arms elbow-deep in the dirt, breaking up the soil. And when we see each other she will radiate her smile again, and give me a sideways hug to keep the dirt off my work clothes. Won’t she? She must be still here…somewhere?

If we need her to join Anna Maria in leading another retreat in “Three-Centered Awareness,” she will surely come remind us to quit acting like giant heads flopping around the earth with our multitudes of thoughts, will call us back to full embodiment, will guide us into the Heart Center. I know she would say, “yes.” Maybe I can just call her now. Maybe she will still answer.

Giant tears take over, finally, until I can’t see the words I am writing. And now my nose runs freely.

My body is speaking to tell me something terrible has really happened. And this breaks my freakin’ heart all over again. And I curse with my modest cursing vocabulary. It doesn’t help.

How could the woman who sat with her arm around me as we waited to hear the results of my wife’s own cancer surgery not be around if I should need her again? How can a living being just dissolve away like that? It’s just too much.

Now I can’t breathe.

Who will I turn to when the next street friend needs Marilyn’s Tai Chi classes for free, so she can find her way back towards embodied serenity, having nothing but her being to offer as payment? Could I still call out to Marilyn? Maybe she could return for that?

Or maybe I could just tell her I need that coffee with her at Manhattan Jack’s one more time, and need that parting hug just one more time. Maybe then…

My head hurts. My heart hurts. My body hurts all over. My energy just disappeared after Marilyn’s memorial service last Monday. I’ve been sick all week. I think the disease is called: “I hate this and can’t accept it!”

My breathing slowly returns. My nose begins to open. The ache across my whole chest eases up a bit. Something is trying to let go.

Let Marilyn go? Really? Is there some other way? (I feel like one of the disbelieving disciples when Jesus has announced, “I am going away to prepare a place for you. But I will come again and receive you unto myself.”)

Aren’t you still closer than breath Marilyn? Are you all spirit now, so you can dart about wherever you want? Can’t you show up when you want to, even for a little tender moment, like this bright yellow prothonotary warbler appearing in the tree just now?

Could you come by when I am meditating, chanting to music, being one with me as I am being one with The All?

Yes, I am resisting surrender again. Who wouldn’t? Isn’t this part of being human, in our very nature?

I wish a contemplative life of practicing the presence protected us from heartache. But it seems to be the opposite. Being fully present means present to everything. Even this.

My body eases up. I settle back into my chair.

A red cardinal arrives on the deck just outside our windows. Is that you? Can I let this be you showing up? He sees his own reflection in the glass. He hops so close that I think he is looking at me. Then he darts away.

I look up into the azure blue sky, just beyond the dappled light on the bright green white oak leaves which have just budded out.

I make a decision: I am going to let you be in the appearances of The-One-who-is-in-all-that-is.

I would rather have hugs, coffees with you, that smile…but what if you want to come to me in all these other ways? What if you are like Spirit now? Should I say “no” to that?

I think my body/mind/heart is drawing near to the moment of releasing you. Maybe I can’t hold you here. Maybe I must release, accept, surrender.

I send my heart full of love to you, wherever you are.

I say I will be watching for your appearances.

And I promise I will hold your beloved Anna Maria in my heart still, as she wanders through this long dark wood. We already miss you terribly.


About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through; and of a blog on, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (, adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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6 Responses to Slowly surrendering to heartbreak

  1. Suzanne G Gould says:

    William, I’m so sorry about your friend Marilyn. I can so relate to your feelings. I have felt so many of the same things during Daddy’s illness and since his death. I don’t want to let go, but am so grateful to know that he is in heaven with Mama and is healed completely. As we finish packing up their home and all of their earthly belongings I can’t seem to get a grip on my sadness and feel stuck. I guess this will let up a little when we can no longer go to their home, as it will belong to someone else. Their belongings will be spread out between all of our family. We are all finding comfort in seeing birds and ducks, geese and turtles and think about Daddy every time we see them. Britton always felt like Darrell would send us signs through bluebirds. She always has a bluebird house, as did Daddy. Maybe that cardinal was a sign from Marilyn. The grief process is a mysterious thing. We love you.

    • soulcare4u says:

      Thanks for this sharing Suzanne. Yes you all surely know about the long road of family loss, and how grief has its way with us whenever it wants to. I sure hold each of you in my heart as you continue dealing with Erskine’s loss and all that means. May he too appear in whatever way he chooses and bring the comfort of knowing, “All shall be well.”

  2. Patti Paquette says:

    William! I was so glad that you made this post so I could find your blog. So glad to see you are still using God’s wisdom to share with others. Hope you and Carol are doing well.

  3. datlilmommy says:

    Terribly sorry to hear of Marilyn’s passing. May she come to you in the many ways of the Spirit. Peace.

    • soulcare4u says:

      Thanks Helen. Life – huh – always taking us places we do not want to go, and later surprising us with ways to find a peace beyond circumstances. My goal in writing is to keep it real, to speak to both sides of life in its terrible and wonderful revelations.

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