Can Nature heal a Broken Heart?

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, shown in her pottery studio

Recently, my sister experienced one of the most devastating losses a mother could know, when her 40-something daughter, Chris, died of a drug overdose. Anyone who has experienced the same horrendous loss knows this pain. It’s not possible to describe it adequately and my sister has been almost inconsolable. This is difficult on so many levels: emotionally, spiritually, psychically, and physically.

Addiction is a hideous, cunning, mean, and pernicious disease that impacts everyone around it — well beyond the person trapped in its clutches. I have struggled to find ways to comfort and support my sister who lives quite a distance away —it’s not like I can stop over for a cup a tea.

A few days ago, we talked on the phone. “I just can’t stop crying,” she said. “I think about Chris all the time.”

“I know, I just want to hold your hand. Tears are like medicine, it’s okay, I just want to hold your hand.”

We talked about when our brother, Paul died at 36, and when our sister, Chris died at 55. We thought there would be no end to our grief – those were impossible times then. Nothing helped. No one helped soothe the pain. But these — like other deaths that were expected — we could see their deaths coming after long illnesses and we could somehow prepare ourselves for loss. But this was sudden, like a crack of thunder. Even after years of struggle and darkness and the long-lasting ache of helplessness, the lightning strike came out of nowhere. Despite my thinking that someday we would get that phone call, it still stunned.

Marge sat on the back porch of her house while we talked. She noticed that the weather outside was beautiful: blue sky, cool breeze, the trees were blowing in the wind. Here too, it was a beautiful day: clear skies, dry and breezy. It was as if we shared the same space and time even though we were miles apart. The birds, the sun and sway of trees opened a portal so that we could sit on the same porch, smell the same air. We talked about how amazing the birds are as hundreds of them swarm in the sky all together. How is it that these tiny speedy creatures don’t crash into one another? We sat amazed at the mystery of nature. We saw the same trees swaying, the same blue sky with clouds floating by.

And for one silent, precious instance, there was peace.

Can nature heal a broken heart? I think so, I hope so. I pray for more moments when my sister can simply see God in the sway of trees and the sound of birds. I pray that what is most fearful and broken in her can rest and come to peace.

I Go Among trees, Wendell Berry

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their place
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes.
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

Posted in News, Weekly Word

17 responses to “Can Nature heal a Broken Heart?

  1. During my 21 years as a hospital chaplain I was with many people after sudden deaths — all were extremely difficult.

    I became most angry at wake services when the person ahead of me in line would say “I know how you feel.” When I approached the grieving relative I would say ” that person has no way of knowing how you feel.” Hugs and listening were all that I could offer — the only thing.

    Rosemary H.

  2. Anne, such a beautifully crafted reflection. What love you share with your sister in all your griefs, especially this most painful one. Berry’s poem was the perfect conclusion. Thanks for sharing this poignant moment. May there be many more.

  3. May God’s comfort and peace enfold you and your dear sister in this very difficult time. May you know that God is healing, or has already healed Chris and restored her to wholeness….

  4. Dear Anne,
    I sit quietly in the midst of a beautiful grove of trees hugging a calm and gentle lake. I hold you and your sister, Marge, in my heart praying for peace and healing for your hearts and souls.
    Love Connie

  5. Thank you , Ann, for sharing your sorrow and your sister’s grief. It can help many of us who are grieving losses in our own lives.
    Wishing you and your sister deep peace…eventually.

  6. Thank you for your blog Anne. Healing can certainly be found in nature. May you, your dear sister and her family find healing in God’s natural world.

  7. Dear Anne,
    Thank you for your beautiful poem expressing the mystery of death and resurrection. It touched me deeply and I reread it several times and will reread it again.
    Blessings and peace,

  8. Ann, my brother Dale and his wife Fran had a similar experience in May. They lost their daughter Kristen to a drug overdose. You are correct—that affects every area of their lives. Nature, I believe, is one of the best healers. I am going to share what you have written with my family. Thank you for this sharing.

  9. Your writing was so sacred Anne. I could almost feel the pain, I carry your sister in my most compassionate heart and pray that someday–sometime, the hole in her heart will not feel so big. I loved the way you expressed your and her feelings. Sometimes there are no words,

  10. Sr. Ann,
    Your compassion over the loss of your niece is so painfully and beautifully described…thank you for baring your soul and reminding us of the importance of just listening and being present to someone enduring unimaginable grief. I hold your family all in healing prayer.

  11. Thanks Anne for those wonderful comforting words. Its
    wonderful how nature can heal ones spirit.
    Peace and prayers are with you.

  12. Sister Anne,
    Thank you for the beautiful and encouraging entry on healing a broken heart. My experience is that only years and something as big as God and Nature can heal such a devastating blow. This, as you said is not like any other death. It is so complicated by feelings of anger, self-doubt, abandonment. I am happy that you are able to let your sister know that you hold her hand even from a distance. A card that means a lot to me says “The hands that made the stars are holding your heart.”

  13. Sr Anne,
    First, my heartfelt condolences to you, your sister and other family members on your tragic loss.
    Re your niece–and all–keep in mind that God has promised us (including Chris) eternal salvation.

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