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The Garden of Love and Loss

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By Judith Sarah Schmidt, PhD

Reviewed by Nancy Eichhorn, PhD

Books come to me at the moment I need them. It may sound strange that a book magically appears with a message I need to hear in that time and space and yet it is my reality, my truth.

Dr. Judith Sarah Schmidt reached out to me in 2017. She was looking for developmental editing assistance with her manuscript. I was in the midst of my mother’s recurrent cancer eruptions and not skilled to comprehend and negotiate her potential death—I did not my mom to die, and I sure did not know how to deal with the grief that arose even considering it. I still had unresolved feelings about my fiancé’s death when I was not yet 20 years old. Facing my mom’s potential death was overwhelming.

Reading Judith’s manuscript, I learned how she lived through and with her daughter’s death and eventually her 94-year-old mother’s death, and how she was now helping others to move through the grieving process when a loved one has departed.

She writes:

“With hearts cracked wide open, we mutter our light and dark to one another, sing songs of grief for who and what we have lost, and offer praise for the force of life that pulses all around and within us.

“Although your journey through the Land of Grief is one of broken heartedness, may you come to know your heart will also be touched and opened in unimaginable ways. May you be visited not only by darkness but touched by a most poignant light. May you know not only the deadness of stone but also a profound awakening to the sacredness of life.

“It is my deep hope that, through this book’s journey, you take something with you to light your way, to help you see in the dark, something to carry and to pass on to others” (pg. iv-v).

The book is intended to be used in myriad situations: during the dying process; when someone you loved has recently died; for a young adult who lost a parent or sibling; for people part of a bereavement group; for someone dealing with ongoing grief from a loss many years ago; and for readers who have not experienced the loss of a loved one but know it is coming.

In this pandemic year of loss, I know many people who have lost a loved one in the most excruciating circumstances; many were unable to be with their loved one as they died.

I count my blessings that I was able to sit with my beloved Aunt Irma several years ago now in the ICU. Day-to-day we shared special moments—she loved her hands and feet massaged and her face gently washed. When the time came and hospice began the morphine drip, I was able to hold her hand, meet her gaze, share my love and memories, and hear her raspy voice as she struggled to vocalize her love and memories of me. I am thankful that I had the knowledge gained by reading Judith’s manuscript years before to be present and open, to let compassion and love be my guide in those shared moments together.

To be restricted from this intimate moment, person-to-person, touch-to-touch as she transitioned as many people had to be during this past year because of COVID-19 feels simply appalling. I believe that Judith’s book came to light this year at just the right moment when many are facing their losses (some more than one) and wondering how to navigate their way from life to death and back to life.

Inside the Book

Judith offers 52 reflections (one per week for the first year), guided meditations, and journal writing suggestions to help readers use the book to their best advantage. As she notes, there is no right or wrong way to be with this process. It comes from her grief journey as well as from years sitting with others as they worked through their losses. Her intention is for others to find their way with support.

Setting the stage, she offers readers guidelines such as creating a scared silent space free of clutter or perhaps with some treasured objects. A place where you can sit, reflect, meditate, write, draw in your journal. A place to come inside and feel safe in silence, to be with whatever arises (tears, fears, anger, hope, regrets, memories), a place that can become a refuge, a haven for you and your grief.

The guided meditations include work with your breath, somatic awareness of your body, drawing, movement, and journaling. On journaling, she notes: “I have found the greatest pain in my life comes from feelings I would not let myself feel, from words I would not let myself say, from tears I would not let myself cry. What I could not share with another, what I could barely share with myself, I shared with my journal” (pg. xiii).

A journal can stand in as a witness for your experience. You are alone with your inner selves and can have conversations that no one else is meant to hear, not meant to be part of—you and your feelings, thoughts, desires, fears, can come together and be released.

She addresses situations/topics that are common during the grieving process such as feeling numb and letting go of a loved one’s belongings.  I slept with my fiancé’s shirt for months after his tragic death, longing for his scent and the softness of the flannel as if snuggled in his arms. She encourages readers to allow grief to move physically through the body, to listen to the voice of aloneness, to live through the long nights, and be with the emptiness one feels.

Her reflections, meditations, and journal prompts support and guide readers through the initial stages of loss and through a growth process where one eventually allows new loved ones to enter their lives. To move from a sheltered focus to viewing all humanity as one’s family, to focus on global connections, and to face the reality that one day we will all die.

Coming to a Close

She closes by offering the words that she hears in the stillness of her heart that help her to continue on the path of love and loss:

“Dear Breath of life,

Please hold my hope, hold my deep desire to love and serve life.

Please let this book give healing to even one person on their path of grief.

Please hold my darkness, tattered remnants of my grief.

Please place a star within my heart to guide my way when I become lost.

Help me know my fullness. Forgive me my emptiness.

May my living shine forth the essence of my departed loved ones who are ever with me.

Help me carry gently the places within still wrapped in frozen grief.

Help me remember the unbreakable circle of love and life.

Help me to have compassion for all that is broken and a sense of wide-eyed wonder for all that is whole.

And, when it is my time to die, may my memory be a blessing, for that will mean I had lived and touched others in some good way” (pg. 290).

She then invites readers to write their own prayer for going on and, if it feels right, to share it with someone close.

At this point in my life, having lost two significant loved ones and facing the impending loss of my parents (age 91 and 92), I am grateful to have the published book in hand. Life continues and death will come. I know I will work through this journey again and again. Judith’s reflections and meditations will not “wear out” after one use. They will withstand the test of time, forever pertinent when one is grieving.

 

Judith Sarah Schmidt, Ph.D. After earning her doctorate in clinical psychology, she did post-doctoral studies in Object relations and studied Waking Dream Therapy with Collette Muscat in Jerusalem. As an imagery, dream and trauma therapist, her work is inspired by Winnicott, Jung, and Buddhist and Jewish spirituality. She integrates depth and imaginal psychotherapy and the restorative language of the body, and she cherishes those sacred moments that arise like surprises from the creative core of wholeness and bring healing.