Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Long-term hopes and treasured dreams
provide comfort as well as direction for our lives. When
circumstances appear to thwart them, however, or our own
shortcomings hinder them from being fulfilled, the sense of shock
and loss can be enormous. Tennyson illustrates this acutely in this
grief-laden poem about bitter and unrecompensed loss. He contrasts
the joy and serenity of life around him – symbolised by happy
children and ships sailing on their regular journeys – with his own
intense inner grief, expressed by the sea, whose waves break
continually on the detached and disinterested rocks.
In times of grief and loss, everyone
seems to know their role and place in life, while you are left
“looking in” on it from the outside. This is the terrifying and
alienating feeling of being a “non person” which Robbie Davis-Floyd
experienced during the traumatic months that followed her daughter’s
first year, I was in total shock. The intensity of
pain and loss was everywhere around me. One day at a
time? Impossible to contemplate. I could only live
one second at a time: now I am climbing the stairs,
now I am sitting down at the computer, now I am
turning it on. People say shock wears off in a few
months, but that was not my experience. Coming out
of shock means accepting that your child is dead. Do
you have any idea how many millions of new neural
networks, new synaptic connections, your brain needs
to create to accommodate that information? The death
of a child means that everything you took for
granted about life is shaken, in question. The world
is upside down. Nothing makes any kind of sense,
especially that you should be alive when your child
is not. It takes lots of time and enormous energy
simply to accept the fact of the death.
It took me one solid year to begin to accept the
possibility that she was really dead, even though I
had stayed with her in that hospital room for five
hours, had begged her with all my might to live, had
realized with my body that no one was there in hers
to beg or who could respond. That helped, but it
wasn’t enough for my mind to get it. I spent much of
that first year bargaining with God: “Who wrote this
screenplay? Can’t we write another one?” “Can’t we
press rewind on the DVD and watch a different
movie?” “I have her hair and her baby teeth –
couldn’t we clone her?”
“Irrevocable” is not something we accept easily in a
society where we can change so much through
technology – hasn’t there got to be a way to change
this? One year I spent in that process of denial and
bargaining, even though my dead daughter’s ashes sat
on the altar I had made for her in my bedroom. My
poor brain just could not encompass this terrible
And what did I gain when finally, near the first
anniversary of her death, I “got it” that she had
died, and no amount of bargaining would alter that?
Utter despair and the complete loss of hope.
Irrational as it was, the hope I gained from
bargaining had been sustaining me. When I accepted
the finality of her death, and let go of my hope
that somehow I could have her back, I gained truth
but I lost myself. If the pain of death had lasted
even only 365 times as long as the pain of birth, I
could have stood it without drugs. I did stand it
for one year.
And then I couldn’t stand it any more. Around the
first anniversary of her death, just when I thought
I was supposed to be feeling better (integrating,
accepting, and all that), I cratered into
depression. If you haven’t been there, you can’t
imagine what it’s like. The simplest act – putting
on my socks, going to the kitchen to heat up some
soup – is like struggling inch-by-inch through thick
People told me I had
to “do something.” So I gritted my teeth and found a
wonderful bereavement counsellor. I collapsed in
tears when she said to me during our first session,
“I bet everyone is telling you that you should be
all better now that the first year is past. Let me
just tell you how it really is: the first year you
are in shock, and you still nurture hope. The second
year you give up hope, you are left with despair,
looking at the reality of the rest of your life
without your child, and you have to fight back from
that. So the second year is always the hardest.”
I have never felt so understood. Her words did not
magically make me well, but they did reassure me
that I was not going crazy. Seven months of hell
went by before I began to stabilize. Things were
looking up – maybe I could survive this after all.
Maybe I could even be happy again, for more than a
few moments at a time.
When the unthinkable happens,
we, like Robbie, may experience such strong shock waves that
they all but take us over. Why be surprised if it takes time
for our trust levels to recover? It need by no means
automatically be the case that we are just heaping up empty
words in vain repetition5 if we find ourselves praying the
same thing over and over again. We may need to do this in
order to bring God’s peace to the deeply shocked and hurting
parts of our heart – and to remind ourselves that God’s
purposes will still work out, even though the person or
vision we had set our heart may no longer play any part in
If we do not allow ourselves to go
through this cathartic process, there is every chance that our
emotions will ricochet wildly when the cocoon of the divine
anaesthetic lifts. One moment we are hoping against hope that we can
find a way to solve our problem, the next we are trembling at how we
are going to cope if we do not.
We hate feeling so helpless, but
there is nothing wrong with this provided that we continue to bring
our helplessness to the God who is always willing to help. Not all
our hopes and dreams may be fulfilled on Earth, but Jesus is still
our Friend and Saviour – even if the substance of our prayer for the
moment consists of little more than repeated cries for help. He can
always pick us up one more time than we can fail or fall – and when
we and He are both ready, He will move again on our behalf.
Reflect and Pray
When He sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of His soul,
He will be satisfied.
moment by moment,
minister to the shock
that is shredding
my heart apart.
Calm the racing thoughts,
and restore my poise,
and my trust.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Serif photo dvd
He who loses wealth loses much; he who loses a friend loses more;
but he that loses his courage loses all.
“There is no pain equal to that which two lovers can inflict on one
another,” Cyril Connelly declared. He was probably right, but
fallouts between friends can come a close second. What can be more
painful than to lose the friendship of someone we had assumed we
would be walking with all the days of our life?
. . .
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On to Broken Relationships
Faith or Presumption?