Grief in the Body

When someone comes into our life to love and then is taken away, what’s left is not only a longing in the heart but in the body too. There was a way that our body fit with that other one, that our arms held him, that our cells turned in his direction when we were with him. All that too has been lost and its absence is acute. The touch that was so nurturing like food we didn’t know we hungered for is gone. And we are physically, as well as emotionally, bereft.

With patience and tending, grief of the heart can be transmuted. It is there in the poems we write, the compassion with which we respond to another’s heartbreak, the awareness we bring to love of its double-edged quality that makes us more careful of its power.

What of this physical loss? Can it too move through? This muscle memory of the one we loved? The body in grief can be heavy and slow, the cells no longer springing up in anticipation and hope for that delicious touch of recognition from another. Instead it’s hard to pull oneself up out of bed or out of sadness. But if we follow this spiral of grief down, if we let ourselves be pulled deeper into the heavy darkness, if we follow the physical urges to cry and we yield to the knowledge of the body, we can heal. It requires knowing, resting in, the fact that this state, like everything else, is not permanent, that as the body rests and releases the pain of loss, it will eventually lighten and rise of its own accord.

If we let ourselves experience this, we can remember that this pain and lethargy are only manifestations of the eternal pulse of the cosmos, opening and closing, rising and falling. Just as the stars erupt into brightness and burn out, the heart expands and contracts with each beat, and the lungs fill and empty with each breath, we are forever riding these endless waves of rhythmic, cosmic movement.

I think the physical loss can be transmuted. At first to a small boy’s sweater knit of yellow yarn because I needed something to keep my fingers moving when they couldn’t tousle his hair or wipe away his tears or rest contented on his skin. Later to a good loaf of bread because I needed to feel the silky weightlessness of the flour on my hands, needed the soothing rock and rhythm of the dough coming alive as I kneaded it into shape.

But now the expression of grief, indivisible from the love that defines it, has moved through me in a deeper way, a more full-bodied way. I find myself dancing differently. When I dance now, there is something larger in it than before. There is more room for intentions to move through and be articulated. It feels as though the hollowness, the emptiness, the aching desire, all of which felt as though they would overwhelm have instead left more room behind. Now there is a more space for a fullness of expression, as if, when I dance now, I am pouring something out from those cavities, as if I have created more space in and around my body. I have been stretched open in a way that was almost unbearably sad, but sometimes now I feel that I am a moving part of a world that is almost unbearably beautiful.


Catharine H. Murray,

Author of Now You See the Sky, Akashic Books, 2018

Published by

Catharine H. Murray

Author, poet, speaker, workshop leader, teacher.

One thought on “Grief in the Body

  1. I also knitted with yellow yarn when my daughter died. Yellow was her favorite color, and I (having never knitted before) made a clumsy yellow scarf. It gave my hands and my mind something to do when all I wanted to do was to lie down and cry.


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