How to Survive the Unsurvivable
Demand nothing of yourself,
even that you survive,
for your body already knows its belonging,
and the wild ache of your longing
will take you where it takes you.
You needn’t question where you arrive or how.
Something ancient in you already knew
how to love the unbeautiful gasp of dying,
how to bury your own bones with your beloved’s,
how to walk yourself, lonely, home.
Even when your grief turns from sorrow
and rises frantic in you,
in sweat-drenched dreams
of regret and self-loathing,
of what you might have done and didn’t—
Even when you stir each morning
from a dream of his voice awakening you,
your arms reaching into cool air for his warm body,
which you loved more than anything,
more than your own life—
Even then, your life will not abandon you.
You may call loved ones
by the wrong name for a while,
weep in the supermarket
and forget what you love.
But this too, all of it, is your belonging.
Your grief will take everything you don’t need to survive.
And you will survive.
One day as you drive,
you may find your fingers dancing
playfully in the air
in time to a song on the radio,
one you both loved.
You may feel the sun pouring in through the window
onto your face, onto the memory
of the face of your beloved,
who smiles alongside you, comforting you,
reminding you that the unbearable
tenderness of your love for each other
makes no sense and no demands.
It was always just you,
living in your broken open heart,
following the wild ache of your longing.
Emma Skogstad is a writer and editor living in Austin, Texas. Chuck Clonce, the man she has loved for more than half her life, died January 19, 2017. She misses him every day.
Rev. Carla Cheatham, MA, MDiv, PhD, TRT has served hospices as a chaplain and bereavement coordinator. She’s the Section Leader for the Spiritual Caregivers Section of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Chair of NHPCO’s Ethics Advisory Council, and an adjunct professor at the Seminary of the Southwest and an Affiliate Associate Professor at the University of Maryland. Through her Carla Cheatham Consulting Group, Carla provides training and consulting for professional caregivers nationwide. She is the author of Hospice Whispers: Stories of Life and its companion volume, Sharing Our Stories: A Hospice Whispers Grief Support Workbook. Her next book, On Showing Up with Suffering: Others’ and Our Own, is set to publish in 2020.